Evans v. Chavis

PETITIONER:Mike Evans, Acting Warden
RESPONDENT:Reginald Chavis
LOCATION:Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 04-721
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2005-2006)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 546 US 189 (2006)
GRANTED: May 02, 2005
ARGUED: Nov 09, 2005
DECIDED: Jan 10, 2006

Peter K. Stris – for the respondent (appointed by the Court)
Catherine Baker Chatman – for the petitioner

Facts of the case

After Reginald Chavis was convicted of murder, he filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in California court. After the California Court of Appeal denied Chavis’ petition, he waited more than three years before appealing the decision to the California Supreme Court, which denied the petition without explanation.

Having exhausted his state-court remedies, Chavis then sought to file a habeas petition in federal court. The district court, however, dismissed Chavis’ petition. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act there is a one-year period in which a habeas petition must be filed. Chavis’ three-year delay, the court ruled, had exceeded that period, and Chavis’ petition was therefore untimely. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, however, holding that Chavis’ state-court petition had been “pending” for the entire three years. Because the one-year statute of limitations did not apply to time during which state court petitions were pending, Chavis’ petition in federal district court was timely under the AEDPA.


When a state court denies a habeas petition summarily, without explanation, does the time that a defendant spent filing that petition count toward the one-year statute of limitations in federal habeas appeals under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act?

Media for Evans v. Chavis

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 09, 2005 in Evans v. Chavis

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 10, 2006 in Evans v. Chavis

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has the opinion in Evans versus Chavis.

Stephen G. Breyer:

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, known as AEDPA, says a state prisoner who wants to file a federal habeas-corpus petition has to do so within a year of the time that his state conviction became final.

Now, that year can be tolled, you can add days and you are supposed to add days for the period during which the petitioner’s state habeas petitions were pending.

Well, what’s “pending”?

In a case called Carey v. Saffold, we said, well, pending time includes the time between the lower court deciding, no, you lose, and the petitioner filing an appeal.

That is usually a few days, 30 days, 60 days; states set time limits as to how long before you have to file that notice of appeal.

And in Carey v. Saffold, we said three things.

We said that time does count; that is part of the time it’s pending, those 30 or 60 days during which you’re just trying to decide whether to appeal.

And the second thing we said — and the same thing is true of California.

Now, California is a little difficult in this respect, as it does not say 30 days; it does not say you have to file in 60 days.

It says you have to file within a reasonable time.

But we said despite the use of those words “reasonable time”, we think California is about the same as the rest of the states, so that time counts as long as your file within a reasonable time.

You have to be timely.

And then the third thing we said is, well, federal judges, when you look to see if it is timely, sometimes the petitioner files very late, and the California courts consider the matter and they say denied on the merits; but the fact that they use the word “on the merits” does not show it was timely, because sometimes court to do say “denied on the merits,” though it was not timely, either; and they want to show the petitioner, for example, he just didn’t lose on a technicality.

All right, that is what we held in Carey v. Saffold. Now, in this case, the 9th Circuit had a petition, it was delayed and so forth, and they had to decide was this year period as extended by the pending time, did it count, and it all turned on the period of time between the lower court deciding, petitioner, you lose, and his filling what was, in effect, a notice of appeal.

Well, that turned out to be three years.

So the 9th Circuit said, well, it is three years; but that is timely, that is within a reasonable time.

And the reason that they gave was, they said, well, when the California court finally denied the petition, it just said “denied”; but we think it’s just saying “denied” means they denied it on the merits, and if they denied it on the merits, it must have been timely.

Well, California said that is contrary to your case of Carey v. Saffold, and after looking at it carefully, we think it is contrary to the case of Carey v. Saffold; and so we reverse the 9th Circuit.

Also, we’ve looked out the period of time there and we’ve looked at the record, and we do not see any way in which a court consistent with Saffold could say this was timely.

Those are the reasons we reversed the 9th Circuit, and Justice Stevens has filled an opinion concurring in the result.