Lawrence v. Florida

PETITIONER: Gary Lawrence
RESPONDENT: Florida
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 05-8820
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 549 US 327 (2007)
GRANTED: Mar 27, 2006
ARGUED: Oct 31, 2006
DECIDED: Feb 20, 2007

ADVOCATES:
Christopher M. Kise - argued the cause for Respondent
Mary Catherine Bonner - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Gary Lawrence was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Lawrence appealed his conviction, arguing that his counsel had been ineffective. After exhausting his state-court appeals, Lawrence filed a petition for certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to review the decisions of the Florida courts. Later, Lawrence petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, which would allow his appeal to be heard in federal court.

The federal District Court rejected Lawrence's habeas petition, because he had exceeded the one-year statute of limitations in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The AEDPA gives defendants one year to submit habeas petitions, but that does not include any time that the petitioner has a "properly filed application" pending for "State post-conviction or other collateral review." In Lawrence's case, whether or not he had exceeded the one-year time limit depended on whether or not the time spent waiting for the Supreme Court to process his pending certiorari petition counted toward the time limit. Federal Circuit Courts have disagreed on this question.

In his appeal, Lawrence argued that time spent on Supreme Court certiorari petitions, like time spent on state-court appeals, was not countable toward the one-year statute of limitations. Lawrence also made an alternative argument that the incompetence of his state-appointed counsel, as well as the disagreement among federal courts on the statute of limitations question, constituted "extraordinary circumstances." If the Court were to find that the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the defendant's control, it could set aside the time limit under the doctrine of "equitable tolling."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the District Court and rejected Lawrence's petition. The Circuit Court ruled that Lawrence had failed to demonstrate how his lawyer's actions or the confusion over the statute of limitations caused him to miss the deadline. The Circuit Court acknowledged that the statute of limitations had been in dispute, but it followed Circuit precedent that said time spent waiting for a pending Supreme Court certiorari petition did count toward the AEDPA's one-year time limit.

Question

1) When a defendant facing death has a certiorari petition pending before the United States Supreme Court, does the time the petition is pending count toward the one-year statute of limitations in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act?

2) Does the division in the Circuit Courts over the statute of limitations constitute an extraordinary circumstance that would allow the Court to set aside the time limit?

3) Does the ineffectiveness of a defendant's counsel constitute an extraordinary circumstance that would allow the Court to set aside the time limit?

Media for Lawrence v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 31, 2006 in Lawrence v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 20, 2007 in Lawrence v. Florida

Clarence Thomas:

Second case I have to announce is Lawrence v. Florida, number 05-8820.

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Petitioner Gary Lawrence was convicted in State Court of first degree murder and his conviction was affirmed on direct appeal.

364 days passed before Lawrence passed a petition for State postconviction relief which was rejected by the Florida Courts.

After the Florida Supreme Court issued its mandate denying State postconviction relief Lawrence waited another 113 days to file his Federal Habeas petition application.

Despite the Federal Habeas statute’s one year limitation period, Lawrence argues that his Federal Habeas application is timely because he filed a petition for certiorari in this Court seeking review of the Florida Supreme Court’s denial of State postconviction relief.

Specifically Lawrence maintains that his application for a state postconviction review was still pending within the meaning of the Federal Habeas statute until this court denied his certiorari petition.

The District Court rejected petitioner’s argument and held that his habeas application was untimely.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed holding that the certiorari petition was not part of the applications for state postconviction review and that petitioner was not entitled to equitable tolling of the federal limitations period.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

We hold that an application for a state postconviction review is no longer pending once the State Courts have conclusively spoken on the matter and all that remains as a certiorari petition pending before this Federal Court.

The Federal Habeas statute tolls the statute of limitations during the time when an application for state postconviction or other collateral review is pending.

So, the question is, whether such an application is still pending, when a certiorari petition is filed in this court to review a State Court’s denial of the postconviction relief.

We have previously said that a state postconviction application remains pending until the application has achieved final resolution through the State’s postconviction procedures and today we hold that state review ends when the State Courts have finally resolved an application for state postconviction relief.

After the State’s highest court has issued its mandate or denied review no other state avenues for relief remain open and an application for state post-conviction review no longer exists all that remains is a separate certiorari petition pending before a Federal Court.

Thus, the filing of a petition for certiorari in this court does not toll the limitations period and accordingly petitioner’s Federal Habeas application was untimely.

Petitioner has not presented any circumstances that justify the use of equitable tolling to forgive the un-timeliness of his application.

Therefore, the Court of Appeals correctly dismiss petitioner’s claim.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Stevens Souter and Breyer have joined.