Does a criminal defendant’s motion for a reduced sentence based on leniency count as an “application for State post-conviction or other collateral review” and therefore extend the usual one-year period during which a defendant may file a federal habeas corpus petition?
In December 1993, Khalil Kholi was convicted of sexual assault in the first degree and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Three years later, Kholi filed a motion to reduce his sentence, seeking discretionary leniency in state court. In 2007, Kholi filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court. The federal district court denied Kholi's petition on the grounds that it was not timely filed under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA”). The First Circuit reversed, holding that a discretionary post-conviction motion to reduce a sentence constitutes collateral review under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) and tolls AEDPA's one-year limitation period. Petitioner A.T. Wall appealed, arguing that a discretionary sentence-reduction motion does not constitute collateral review because it does not challenge the validity of a conviction or sentence. Kholi counters that collateral review includes motions seeking equitable, discretionary relief, and argues that his motion seeking a discretionary reduction of an imposed sentence tolls AEDPA's statute of limitations. The Supreme Court's decision will affect the finality of state court judgments, as well as the state court remedies a prisoner can pursue before filing a petition for federal habeas corpus relief.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
Does a state court sentence-reduction motion consisting of a plea for leniency constitute an “application for State post-conviction or other collateral review”, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2), thus tolling the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s one-year limitations period for a state prisoner to file a federal habeas corpus petition?
In December 1993, Respondent Khalil Kholi was convicted of ten counts of sexual assault in the first degree for molesting his two stepdaughters. See Kholi v. Wall, 582 F.3d 147, 149 (1st Cir. 2009). The judge in the Rhode Island Superior Court sentenced Kholi to two terms of life imprisonment to be served consecutively. See Id. On February 29, 1996, the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed Kholi’s conviction. See Id. At this time, Kholi did not file a motion for a rehearing, or seek a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. See Id.
On May 16, 1996, Kholi filed a motion to reduce his sentence based on a plea for leniency, pursuant to Rhode Island Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(a). See Kholi, 582 F.3d at 149–50. The trial court denied Kholi’s Rule 35(a) motion, and Kholi appealed. See Id. at 150. On August 27, 1996, the appeals court denied Kholi’s Rule 35(a) motion. See Id. The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed on January 16, 1998, on the grounds that the evidence at trial showed that Kholi repeatedly sexually abused his two stepdaughters. See Brief for Petitioner, A.T. Wall, Director, Rhode Island Department of Corrections at 5.
On May 23, 1997, Kholi filed a separate motion for post-conviction relief due to ineffective assistance of counsel, in violation of the Sixth Amendment. See Kholi, 582 F.3d at 150. The motion was denied by the state court on April 23, 2003, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the denial on December 14, 2006. See Id.
On September 5, 2007, Kholi filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. See Kholi, 582 F.3d at 150. Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), a state prisoner has one year from the final state court decision to file a federal habeas corpus petition challenging the validity of his sentence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). However, the AEDPA has a tolling clause, which states that the time during which a prisoner has filed for “[s]tate post-conviction or other collateral review” does not count towards the one-year statute of limitations. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). Kholi’s 1997 motion triggered this tolling clause, and thus the AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations was suspended between May 23, 1997, the filing date of the motion, and December 14, 2006, the date of the final decision on the motion. See Kholi, 582 F.3d at 150.
Upon the federal district court’s request, a federal magistrate judge concluded that Kholi’s Rule 35(a) sentence reduction motion based upon a plea for leniency did not suspend the AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitation. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2); Kholi, 582 F.3d at 150. Based upon this recommendation, the district court denied Kholi’s habeas corpus petition as untimely filed under the AEDPA because a year passed between the final date of his conviction, February 29, 1996, and the filing date of his May 23, 1997 motion for post-conviction relief. See Id.
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed, holding that Kholi’s Rule 35(a) motion tolled AEDPA’s one-year limitation period, and, as a result, Kholi’s habeas petition was timely filed. See Kholi, 582 F.3d at 150. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on May 17, 2010 to resolve a circuit split on whether sentence reduction motions based upon a plea for leniency fall under AEDPA’s tolling clause. See Wall v. Kholi, 130 S. Ct. 3274 (2010).
This case concerns an interpretation of federal habeas corpus law, particularly 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d), which provides that a person in custody as a result of a state court’s judgment generally cannot file a habeas corpus petition later than one year after his or her conviction goes to final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). An exception to this rule arises if the prisoner properly applied for “State post-conviction or other collateral review” within that year, in which case the one-year time period is tolled for as long as the prisoner’s application remains pending. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). Khalil Kholi maintains that his motion for a reduction of his sentence was sufficient to delay the expiration of the one-year timeframe for filing a habeas corpus petition in federal court. See Brief for Respondent, Khalil Kholi at 7. Petitioner A.T. Wall, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, argues that such a motion does not fit under the statutory definition of “post-conviction or other collateral review” and, therefore, Kholi’s habeas corpus petition was untimely. See Brief for Petitioner, A.T. Wall, Director, Rhode Island Department of Corrections at 15. Ultimately, the case turns on whether the phrase “post-conviction or other collateral review” is broad enough to encompass Kholi’s sentence-reduction motion.
Wall contends that, although the statute does not attempt to define the meaning of “collateral review,” that category cannot include a sentence-reduction motion. See Brief for Petitioner at 19–20. Specifically, Wall argues that a convict’s application for collateral review must essentially challenge the conviction’s or sentence’s lawfulness, with an aim toward upsetting the conviction or sentence outright. See Id. at 21–22. Because Kholi’s sentence-reduction motion did not claim that his conviction or sentence was actually illegal, Wall would place that motion outside the bounds of the statute’s tolling provision. See Id. Also, because the Court had historically used the term “collateral review” in just this way, Wall urges the Court to presume that Congress had this meaning in mind when it originally drafted Section 2244(d). See Id. at 24.
Kholi agrees that Congress did not explicitly define “post-conviction or other collateral review” but asserts that the common understanding of those words compels the inclusion of a sentence-reduction motion. See Brief for Respondent at 11. Mainly, Kholi takes issue with Wall’s conclusion that the word “collateral” limits the type of post-conviction review that should toll the one-year limitations period. SeeId. at 13–14. Kholi’s maintains that collateral review simply refers to any review of a judgment that takes place outside the direct appeal process. SeeId. at 17. Accordingly, a motion need not challenge the actual legality of the defendant’s conviction or sentence in order for review to be “collateral.” SeeId. Moreover, Kholi argues that the statutory language at play here is purposefully broad and has in mind a wide variety of post-conviction motions and applications, ranging from legal challenges to a conviction’s validity to pleas for discretionary, equitable relief. SeeId. at 14. States have various different procedures and names for their post-conviction relief mechanisms, and Kholi believes that Congress intended for the statute’s tolling provision to cover all of them. SeeId. at 12.
Wall additionally contends that his interpretation of the statute remains true to Congress’s original purpose in passing the AEDPA: judicial efficiency, specifically in reducing the delays before criminal sentences may be executed. See Brief for Petitioner at 36. According to Wall, federal habeas corpus law generally suggests that only motions to invalidate convictions or sentences should toll the one-year period. SeeId. at 39–40. This rule arguably achieves the proper balance between, on the one hand, the traditional requirement that the prisoner of a state must exhaust all available state remedies before filing a federal habeas corpus petition, and on the other, a proper respect for the finality of state judgments. SeeId. at 40. Wall contends that the original purpose of the statutory tolling provision was to allow state courts to resolve any questions that might potentially undo a conviction or sentence because such results naturally make writs of habeas corpus unnecessary. SeeId. So, because Kholi’s motion sought only to reduce, not invalidate his sentence, it could have no effect on his need for a writ of habeas corpus, and there was thus no reason for that motion to delay the expiration of the one-year period. SeeId. at 40–41. Therefore, Wall believes that allowing Kholi’s sentence-reduction motion to toll the time period would undermine the goal of preserving judgment finality and, consequently, disrupt the appropriate balance. SeeId. at 41.
In response, Kholi asserts that other purposes besides exhaustion of state remedies stand behind the statute’s tolling provision, namely comity and federalism. See Brief for Respondent at 21–22, 41. He believes these goals are furthered by allowing a state to address every aspect of its criminal convictions, including leniency in sentencing, before a federal habeas corpus court becomes involved. SeeId. at 41. Kholi also suggests that, given these opportunities, state courts may even grant relief sufficient to cause prisoners not to want to pursue federal habeas corpus writs. SeeId. at 37. Finally, Kholi reiterates his argument that Congress intended for the statute’s tolling provision to encompass a broad range of prisoners’ motions, ultimately anything leading to any type of relief, including sentence reduction. SeeId. Kholi finds problematic Wall’s proposed distinction between motions that seek legal invalidation of convictions or sentences and those that do not. SeeId. at 38–39. Kholi instead urges the Court to allow all post-conviction applications for relief to toll the limitations period, arguing that his “bright-line” approach is clearer and would be much easier for future habeas courts to adjudicate. SeeId.
In this case, the Supreme Court will address a circuit split on whether a state sentence reduction motion based on a plea for leniency extends AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations for filing a federal habeas corpus petition. Wall argues that a discretionary sentence reduction motion does not constitute collateral review under AEDPA and therefore does not toll the one-year limitations provision. On the other hand, Kholi contends that collateral review includes motions seeking equitable, discretionary relief, and argues that a motion seeking a discretionary reduction of an imposed sentence extends the one-year limitations provision. The Supreme Court's decision will affect the finality of state court judgments, and the state court remedies a prisoner can pursue before filing a petition for federal habeas corpus relief.