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Timeliness in filing a habeas action: Supreme Court rules 120 days between filing is not substantial delay.

Robinson v. Lewis, 2020 WL 4045925, Supreme Court of California, S228137, July 20, 2020

A challenge to a state judgment of conviction through a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in state court must present each claim in a timely fashion. However,  California law does not fix a determinate deadlines. An indeterminate ‘reasonableness’ standard is used to assess whether a claim was presented in a timely manner.  In this case, Robinson, a prison inmate filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his state court judgment in the superior court. Sixty days after the  court denied the petition, he filed a new petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Court of Appeal raising the same claims. The Court of Appeal denied the petition and he filed a new original petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court. After a denial by the Supreme Court, he filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court challenging the same judgment. The petition was denied, and Robinson appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Federal time limits and timely filing in state courts-Ninth Circuit Request for clarification.

Time limits exist in the federal courts for filing petitions challenging a state court judgment and whether a petitioner proceeded in a timely fashion in state courts often determines whether the federal petition was timely.  The Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to explain how California law treats the  “gap delay” in filing petitions of habeas corpus.   (See Robinson v. Lewis (9th Cir. 2015) 795 F.3d 926 (Robinson).)

Question of “gap delay” clarified by California Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court framed the question as follows: When a California court denies a claim in a petition for writ of habeas corpus, and the petitioner subsequently files the same or a similar claim in a petition for writ of habeas corpus directed to the original jurisdiction of a higher court, what is the significance, if any, of the period of time between the earlier petition’s denial and the subsequent petition’s filing (66 days in this case) for purposes of determining the subsequent claim’s timeliness under California law?

The Court answered that  when an original petition is filed in the Supreme Court, it does not consider whether the petition was timely but rather whether the claims presented within the petition were timely. The Court considers  only the question of whether each of those claims was presented without substantial delay, as set forth in In re Robbins (1998) 18 Cal.4th 770, 780, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 153, 959 P.2d 311 (Robbins).

Gap delay is relevant but the Court does not consider whether the gap delay, by itself, made the claims raised in the petition untimely, and no specific time limits exist for when a new petition for a writ of habeas corpus must be filed in a higher court after a lower court denies the petition. In the instant case, a 66-day gap between the denial of a petition in the superior court and the filing of a new petition in the Court of Appeal would not be considered substantial delay. It would not make any claim raised in the petition untimely if the petitioner had otherwise presented that claim without substantial delay.

The California Supreme Court never considers a delay of up to 120 days between denial of a petition in the superior court and the filing of a new petition in the Court of Appeal (or between denial of a petition in the Court of Appeal and the filing of a new petition in this court) to be substantial delay for these purposes. Delay beyond that time period would be considered  in a Robbins analysis.

Factors considered in timeliness

 A claim must be presented without substantial delay. If  a petitioner raises a claim after a substantial delay, if the petitioner can demonstrate good cause for the delay, it will be considered on its merits.  The Supreme Court will consider the merits of a claim presented after a substantial delay without good cause if it falls under one of four narrow exceptions.” (Reno, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 460, 146 Cal.Rptr.3d 297, 283 P.3d 1181, citing Robbins, supra, 18 Cal.4th at pp. 780–781, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 153, 959 P.2d 311.) Reno and Robbins were capital cases. Three of the four exceptions cited in Reno and Robbins are relevant to noncapital cases: (1) “ ‘that error of constitutional magnitude led to a trial that was so fundamentally unfair that absent the error no reasonable judge or jury would have convicted the petitioner’ ”; (2) “ ‘that the petitioner is actually innocent of the crime or crimes of which he or she was convicted’ ”; and (3) “ ‘that the petitioner was convicted or sentenced under an invalid statute.’ ” (Reno, at p. 460, 146 Cal.Rptr.3d 297, 283 P.3d 1181, quoting Robbins, at pp. 780–781, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 153, 959 P.2d 311.) “The petitioner bears the burden to plead and then prove all of the relevant allegations.” (Reno, at p. 460, 146 Cal.Rptr.3d 29

 

A delay of up to 120 days would never be considered substantial delay and would not, by itself, make the claim untimely if the petitioner had otherwise presented the claim without substantial delay. Gap delay beyond that time period will not automatically be considered substantial delay but will simply be a relevant factor for the court to consider as part of its overall analysis under Robbins, supra, 18 Cal.4th 770, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 153, 959 P.2d 311

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