Carey v. Saffold

LOCATION:United States District Court Eastern District of Michigan

DOCKET NO.: 01-301
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 536 US 214 (2002)
ARGUED: Feb 27, 2002
DECIDED: Jun 17, 2002

David W. Ogden – Argued the cause for the respondent
David M. Porter – for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance
Peter Goldberger – for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance
Stanley A. Cross – Sacramento, California, argued the cause for the petitioner
Supervising Deputy Attorney General – for petitioner

Facts of the case

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) requires a state prisoner seeking federal habeas relief to file his petition within one year after his state conviction becomes final, but excludes from that period the time during which an application for state collateral review is pending. In 1990, Tony Saffold was convicted and sentenced in California state court for murder, assault with a firearm, and robbery. Saffold filed a state habeas petition in California seven days before the federal deadline. Five days after the state trial court denied his petition, Saffold filed a further petition in the State Court of Appeal. Four and one-half months after that petition was denied, Saffold filed a further petition in the State Supreme Court, which denied the petition on the merits and for lack of diligence. The Federal District Court dismissed Saffold’s subsequent federal habeas petition as untimely, finding that the federal statute of limitations was not tolled during the intervals between the denial of one state petition and the filing of the next because no application was pending during that time. In reversing, the Court of Appeals found that Saffold’s petition was timely because the State Supreme Court based its decision not only on lack of diligence, but also on the merits.


Does the word “pending,” in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, cover the time between a lower state court’s decision and the filing of a notice of appeal to a higher state court? If so, does it apply similarly to California’s unique state collateral review system?

Media for Carey v. Saffold

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 27, 2002 in Carey v. Saffold

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 17, 2002 in Carey v. Saffold

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in number 01-301 Carey versus Saffold and another case will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

The first case is Carey versus Saffold.

It is about the Federal Habeas Corpus Statute which has a requirement that the State prisoner has to file for Federal Habeas Corpus within one year after his State conviction has become final.

Well, what about State collateral review proceeding like State Habeas Corpus which normally takes place after the conviction becomes final.

The statute says that that one year period will be tolled while an application for State collateral review is pending.

Now, this case presents three questions about the meaning of that word “pending”: First, is a state application pending during the interval between the time a lower State Court rules on the application and the time the petitioner files a notice of appeal to the higher State Court.

Normally that is a few days because normally in most States there is a period of time say 30 days or 45 days during which you have to file your notice of appeal while you suppose wait 10 days before filing it.

What about those 10 days?

We say the answer to the question is, yes, That period is part of the ordinary application process and it counts for tolling purposes.

What about California’s collateral review System which is special?

It is special because they do not have a period of appeal from the lower court to the next higher court; what they say is you have to file a new petition in the higher court, and you have to do it within a reasonable time.

But what about that period of time, Between the lost in the lower court you have not yet filed your petition in the higher court.

Well, we say that it is different but the difference does not matter.

We say that California’s original filing review system is functionally similar to the appeal system that other States have and we find that the law treats them similarly.

Alright third, what about the petitioner’s request for review in this case?

And here the petitioner filed his new original writ in the higher court 4 months really later.

Well, was it pending or was he out of time?

Now, that is a little complicated because California’s time period is not like 30 days or 45 days it just says reasonable time.

Well, what we say there and we spell out the reasons is that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit when it faced that question it did not do so correctly; It had an absolute rule they tried to apply.

We say they were wrong on that but we remand the case so that they can work out whether or not it was timely given the principles in our opinion.

Justice Kennedy has filed a dissenting opinion which is joined by the Chief Justice, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas.