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SCOTUSwiki Preview: Jimenez v. Quarterman

Below, Kevin previews tomorrow’s argument in No. 07-6984, Jimenez v. Quarterman.  

On Tuesday afternoon, the Court will hear oral argument in Jimenez v. Quarterman, No. 07-6984, a case involving the federal statute of limitations for federal habeas claims.  (Disclosure: Howe & Russell co-represents petitioner Jimenez).

For a long time, there was no statute of limitations for federal habeas claims.  Federal courts applied a version of the doctrine of laches, which essentially required habeas petitioners to file their claims in federal court within a reasonable time after exhausting their claims in state court.

In 1996, however, Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which among other things replaced that flexible standard with what appears on its face at least to be a straightforward rule: defendants have one year to file their federal petition from “the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review of the expiration of the time for seeking such review.” 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).

As happens not uncommonly, while this rule is perfectly simple to apply in ordinary circumstances, its meaning has come into question in less common applications.  One such instance arose in the case of Carlos Jimenez.


Mr. Jimenez was convicted in state court and asked his court-appointed lawyer to file an appeal on his behalf.  His lawyer filed in the court of appeals what is called an Anders brief, in which he asked the appellate court to relieve him of his appointment because although his client wished to pursue the appeal, counsel could find no reasonable grounds for appealing.  In those circumstances, if the court grants the motion, the client must be so informed and allowed to file his own pro se brief on appeal.

The court granted the request.  However, Jimenez’s lawyer sent the notice to the wrong address.  When Jimenez did not file his own brief, the court of appeals dismissed the appeal.  By the time Jimenez found out about it, it was too late to seek further review.

A good bit of time then passed until Jimenez filed a state habeas petition, complaining about the dismissal of his direct appeal.  The state habeas court agreed that his appellate counsel had been deficient and, as a remedy, ordered the reinstatement of Jimenez’s original direct appeal.  Jimenez then got a new lawyer, prosecuted (and lost) his reinstated direct appeal, then exhausted state habeas review of his conviction.  Thereafter, he proceeded to federal court.

Once in federal court, the question arose whether the AEDPA one-year statute of limitations had begun to run when Jimenez failed to seek further review of the dismissal of his original appeal (i.e., with the “expiration of the time for seeking [direct] review”) or if the reinstated appeal effectively restarted the federal habeas clock, such that his one year began to run at the end of the reinstated appeal process (i.e., with the “conclusion of direct review”).

The Fifth Circuit eventually concluded that even though the reinstated appeal functioned no differently than any other direct appeal, the federal limitations statute did not contemplated a limitations period that starts and stops and starts over again.  The court therefore held Jimenez’s federal claim was time barred.

Jimenez then filed a pro-se cert. petition, which the Court granted (a quite rare occurrence). 

Jimenez then took on Tom Goldstein of Akin Gump and the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic to represent him on the merits.  Tom will argue on his behalf on Tuesday.  The State will be represented at argument by Texas Deputy Solicitor General Sean D. Jordan.


Jimenez argues that under the plain language of the federal limitations provision, his claim is timely because it was filed within a year after the conclusion of his reinstated appeal.  That appeal, he argues, was functionally indistinguishable from any other direct appeal.  He also notes that courts commonly restart the time for taking an appeal – for example, when they grant a retroactive extension of time to file a notice of appeal, or grant an out-of-time petition for rehearing en banc (which restarts the time for seeking certiorari).  He further points out that both state and federal courts commonly remedy ineffective assistance of appellate counsel by reinstating the direct appeal lost by the counsel’s deficient performance. 

The court of appeals’ rule, Jimenez argues, would lead to anomalies Congress couldn’t have intended.  In many cases, even if the defendant quickly discovered that his counsel’s effectiveness led to the dismissal of his direct appeal, the federal limitations period would run out before the defendant could get his appeal reinstated and decided.  As a result, he would be required to file his federal habeas petition while his reinstated direct appeal was still pending in state court.

The State insists that this is not the case, pointing to other provisions of the statute that, it says, would allow a defendant in such circumstances to delay the onset of the federal limitations period, so long as he acted promptly.  In particular, the State points to Section 2244(d)(1)(B) – which runs the limitations period from the “date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed” – and Section 2244(d)(1)(D) – which runs the period from the “date on which the factual predicate of the claim . . . could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.”  Either of these provisions, the State argues, could be used to address the unusual circumstances of this case without running the risk that a defendant could (as Jimenez did) wait for years after finding out about his counsel’s failure before seeking a remedy in state court.

At the same time, the State insists, Congress did not contemplate that the term “direct review” would encompass a reinstated direct appeal of the type at issue here.  Instead, Congress expected that once the time for seeking further direct review has expired (in this case, when Jimenez did not seek discretionary review of the dismissal of his appeal from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals), the judgment would be considered final and the defendant would have a year to seek federal habeas review (with the time tolled while he exhausted state habeas).   It would be anomalous, the State insists, to read the statute to consider a criminal judgment “final” for a period of time, then suddenly rendered “non-final” by subsequent events.

In his reply brief, Jimenez argues that the States’ proposed alternative remedies, Sections 2244(d)(1)(B), and (D), by their terms cannot apply here.  His appellate counsel’s failure to notify him of the Anders brief or the dismissal of his appeal did not prevent him from filing a federal habeas petition and, in any event, a court-appointed lawyer’s failures are not considered “state action” in this context.  Furthermore, Jimenez argues, the “factual predicate” of his federal habeas petition was available as soon as the trial was finished (e.g., his claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel); his appellate counsel’s failure is not the basis of his federal habeas claim (having been remedied by the state courts in granting him a new direct appeal).

Moreover, the State’s concern about defendants waiting too long after the dismissal of their first direct appeal, Jimenez argues, is addressed by state time limits for seeking reinstatement of direct appeals.  Texas, he points out, applies the doctrine of laches to police the timeliness of such requests and in this case the State did not attempt to invoke that defense when Jimenez sought reinstatement of his appeal.