Wednesday, April 26, 2006

District Courts May Dismiss Habeas Petitions Under AEDPA for Untimeliness Sua Sponte

Yesterday, the Supreme Court held, in Day v. McDonough, --- S.Ct. ----, 2006 WL 107110 (Apr. 25, 2006), per Justice Ginsburg, that district courts may dismiss habeas petitions on the court’s initiative for failing to comply with AEDPA’s one-year limitation, so long as both parties are given notice and an opportunity to present their positions, the plaintiff is not significantly prejudiced, and justice is better served by the dismissal. Here’s an excerpt from the Syllabus:

(a) . . . [I]n appropriate circumstances, a district court may raise a time bar [to federal habeas petition] on its own initiative. The District Court in this case confronted no intelligent waiver on the State's part, only an evident miscalculation of time. In this situation the Court declines to adopt either an inflexible rule requiring dismissal whenever [the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)'s] one-year clock has run, or, at the opposite extreme, a rule treating the State's failure initially to plead the one-year bar as an absolute waiver. Rather, the Court holds that a district court has discretion to decide whether the administration of justice is better served by dismissing the case on statute of limitations grounds or by reaching the merits of the petition. This resolution aligns the statute of limitations with other affirmative defenses to habeas petitions, notably exhaustion of state remedies, procedural default, and nonretroactivity. . . .

(b) Before acting sua sponte, a court must accord the parties fair notice and an opportunity to present their positions. It must also assure itself that the petitioner is not significantly prejudiced by the delayed focus on the limitation issue, and “determine whether the interests of justice would be better served” by addressing the merits or by dismissing the petition as time barred.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Souter, and Alito, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion dissenting from the judgment, in which Breyer, J., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas and Breyer, JJ., joined.

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