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Lilly v. Almager

September 3, 2009



Petitioner is a state prisoner without counsel seeking a writ of habeas corpus. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This action proceeds on the May 13, 2008 petition.*fn2 Respondent moves to dismiss this action upon the ground that the petition is untimely. For the reasons explained below, the court finds that respondent's motion must be granted.

I. Procedural History

On November 22, 1999, petitioner was convicted in the Kern County Superior Court of possession of cocaine. The judgment included a finding as true a number of sentencing enhancements. Resp.'s Mot. To Dism., Docs. Lodged in Supp. Thereof ("Lodged Doc.") 1. The superior court sentenced petitioner to an indeterminate state prison term of twenty-seven years to life. Id. On May 25, 2001, the California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District, affirmed the judgment. Lodged Doc. 2. On August 8, 2001, the California Supreme Court denied review. Lodged Doc. 4.

Petitioner subsequently filed in state court three post-conviction collateral challenges. He filed a petition in the trial court on June 4, 2007, which was denied on August 2, 2007. Lodged Docs. 5, 6. He filed a petition in the appellate court on August 16, 2007, which was denied on August 23, 2007. Lodged Docs. 7, 8. Finally, he filed a petition in the California Supreme Court on October 1, 2007. Lodged Doc. 9. The supreme court denied the petition on March 19, 2008, after receiving a supplemental petition from petitioner on January 3, 2008. Lodged Docs. 10, 11. Petitioner filed the instant action on May 13, 2008.

II. Statute of Limitations

A one-year limitation period for seeking federal habeas relief begins to run from the latest of the date the judgment became final on direct review, the date on which a state-created impediment to filing is removed, the date the United States Supreme Court makes a new rule retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review or the date on which the factual predicate of a claim could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). The judgment on direct review becomes final when the 90-day limit for filing a petition for certiorari expires. Bowen v. Roe, 188 F.3d 1157, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 1999).

The limitations period "is not tolled from the time a final decision is issued on direct state appeal [to] the time the first state collateral challenge is filed." Nino v. Galaza, 183 F.3d 1003, 1006 (9th Cir. 1999). The period is tolled, however, once a petitioner properly files a state post- conviction application, and remains tolled for the entire time that application is "pending." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) (statutory tolling). In California, a properly filed post-conviction application is "pending" during the intervals between a lower court decision and filing a new petition in a higher court. Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214, 223 (2002). A federal habeas application does not toll the limitations period under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 181-82 (2001).

Additionally, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that a habeas petitioner may be entitled to equitable tolling if he establishes two elements: (1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way. Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 418 (2005). In light of this pronouncement, the Ninth Circuit has reiterated that the threshold necessary to trigger equitable tolling is very high, and clarified that equitable tolling only applies where a petitioner shows that despite diligently pursuing his rights, some external force caused the untimeliness. Waldron-Ramsey v. Pacholke, 556 F.3d 1008, 1011 (9th Cir. 2009).

Petitioner has the burden of showing facts entitling him to statutory and equitable tolling. Smith v. Duncan, 297 F.3d 809, 814 (9th Cir. 2002); Miranda v. Castro, 292 F.3d 1063, 1065 (9th Cir. 2002).

III. Analysis

In this case, the statute of limitations began to run when petitioner's conviction became final on direct review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). The California Supreme Court denied review on August 8, 2001. Lodged Doc. 4. The conviction became "final" within the meaning of section 2244(d)(1)(A) when the time for filing a petition for writ of certiorari expired ninety days later, on November 6, 2001. Supreme Ct. R. 13; Bowen, 188 F.3d 1157. The one-year limitations period commenced running the following day. Patterson v. Stewart, 251 F.3d 1243, 1246 (9th Cir. 2001). Thus, petitioner had until November 6, 2002 to file his federal habeas petition. However, he did not file a petition in federal court until May 13, 2008. Absent tolling, his application in this court is over five years late.

Petitioner offers several reasons for why this court should consider his petition timely. First, citing to California law, he asserts that "an unlawful sentence can be corrected at any time." Pet'r Opp'n to Resp.'s Mot. to Dism. ("Pet'r Opp'n") at 2. Even if the argument were a correct statement of California law, "it does not in any way impugn the constitutionality of the [federal] one-year limitation period . . . ." See Isabello v. Clark, No. 1:08-cv-01597 TAG HC, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99157, at *13-14 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 25, 2008). Given the clear time requirement set forth in § 2244(d)(1), petitioner's argument lacks merit.

Next, petitioner contends that California has not specified a time period within which habeas petitions must be filed, and that its timeliness rules are so vague and ambiguous that they are rendered arbitrary. Pet'r Opp'n at 6-7. Petitioner asserts, therefore, that California's untimeliness rule is not an independent and adequate state procedural ground for denying habeas relief. Id. Indeed, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has concluded that a ruling of a California court that a habeas petition is untimely is not an adequate ground for barring federal review on the merits of a habeas petition. Townsend v. Knowles, 562 F.3d 1200, 1208 (9th Cir. 2009) (finding the state "failed to meet its burden of proving that California's timeliness bar was sufficiently clear and certain to be an adequate state bar."). Here, however, dismissal is warranted based on the federal statute of limitations, not on the ruling of a state court. Therefore, as discussed below, petitioner's argument regarding whether there is an adequate state procedural ground for denying federal habeas relief, therefore, is misplaced.

Petitioner also argues that the court should proceed directly to the merits of his petition in order to maintain uniformity of federal law regarding what constitutes a "properly filed" and "pending" application in state court. Pet'r Opp'n at 3-4. This argument is also misplaced. The court has no need to inquire as to whether any of petitioner's state post-conviction applications were "properly filed" and "pending" for purposes of section 2244(d)(2). Petitioner waited over four years after the federal statute of limitations period expired before filing his first state habeas petition. See Lodged Doc. 5. As noted, it is clear under federal law that the limitations period is not tolled from the time a final decision is issued on direct state appeal to the time the first state collateral challenge is filed. Nino, 183 F.3d at 1006. Since the federal limitations period ended before petitioner filed his ...

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