RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Harris County Sheriff’s Department
DOCKET NO.: 01-1500
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
CITATION: 537 US 522 (2003)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 2003
DECIDED: Mar 04, 2003
David W. DeBruin - Argued the cause as amicus curiae; invited to brief and argue as amicus curiae in support of the judgment below
Matthew D. Roberts - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent
Thomas C. Goldstein - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Facts of the case
Erick Clay was convicted of arson and distribution of cocaine base in federal District Court. The Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions on November 23, 1998, the court's mandate issued on December 15, 1998, and Clay did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari. One year and 69 days after the Court of Appeals issued its mandate, and exactly one year after the time for seeking certiorari expired, Clay filed a motion for postconviction relief under 28 USC section 2255. Section 2255 provides that such motions are subject to a one-year time limitation that runs from "the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final." The District Court stated that when a federal prisoner does not seek certiorari, his judgment of conviction becomes final for section 2255 purposes upon issuance of the court of appeals's mandate. Because Clay filed his motion more than one year after that date, the court denied it as time barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Does a judgment become "final" for postconviction relief when the appellate court issues its mandate affirming the conviction where a defendant in a federal prosecution takes an unsuccessful direct appeal from a judgment of conviction but does not next petition for a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court?
Media for Clay v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 2003 in Clay v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 04, 2003 in Clay v. United States
William H. Rehnquist:
Justice Ginsburg has the opinions of the Court to announce in two cases.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
The first case is number 01-1500 Clay against United States.
A motion by a federal prisoner propose conviction release is subject to a one year time limitation that generally runs from the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final.
This case concerns the starting date for the one year limitation.
It presents a narrow but recurring question on which Courts of Appeals have divided.
When a defendant and a federal prosecution takes an unsuccessful direct appeal from a judgment of conviction but does not next seek this court's review by petitioning for a writ of certiorari on what date does the judgment becomes final for post conviction release purpose, is the critical date, the one in which the appellate court issues its mandate or does finality instead attached on the date ordinarily 69 days later when the time for filing a petition for certiorari expires.
In accord with this Court’s consistence understanding of finality in the context of collateral review and the weight of lower court authority, we reject the issuance of appellate court mandate as the triggering date.
The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit considered the mandate date crucial so we reverse the judgment of that Court for the purposes starting the clock on the one year limitation period we hold a judgment of conviction becomes final when the time expires for filing of petition for certiorari contesting the appellate court's affirmation of the conviction.
Under that holding, the petitioning prisoner’s motion for postconviction relief appears to be timely.
The decision is unanimous.