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KAPRAL v. UNITED STATES

July 28, 1997

MICHAEL KAPRAL, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WOLIN

 WOLIN, District Judge

 This matter comes before the Court upon the motion of petitioner Michael Kapral ("Kapral") to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. As a matter of first impression, the Court determines that the one-year statute of limitations period under § 2255 begins to run on the date of the appeals court's adjudication of the petitioner's appeal. Because Kapral filed this motion after the limitations period expired, the Court will dismiss Kapral's motion with prejudice.

 BACKGROUND

 On January 17, 1995, Kapral pled guilty to the following charges: (1) conspiracy to distribute, and to possess with intent to distribute, in excess of 700 grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; and (2) evasion of federal income taxes, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7201 and 18 U.S.C. § 2. The plea agreement between Kapral and the United States Attorney's Office of the District of New Jersey provided for the acceptance of the pleas and the disposal of all other charges against Kapral.

 On May 25, 1995, Kapral appealed his conviction. On February 6, 1996, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction by Judgment Order.

 On April 29, 1997, Kapral filed the present Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct the Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. *fn1" In his motion, Kapral claims that ineffective assistance of counsel during the pre-sentencing and appeals processes deprived him of his Sixth Amendment Constitutional right to effective counsel. Further, Kapral alleges that this ineffective assistance of counsel precluded his entering a knowing and intelligent plea.

 DISCUSSION

 While § 2255 time bars any motion filed more than one year after the final judgment of conviction, it does not expressly define when a judgment of conviction becomes final. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255; Clarke v. United States, 955 F. Supp. 593, 595 (E.D. Va. 1997); United States v. Rienzi, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15588, Nos. 92-33-1, 96-4829, 1996 WL 605130, at *1 n.7 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 21, 1996); United States v. Bazemore, 929 F. Supp. 1567, 1569 (S.D. Ga. 1996). Courts have suggested various dates on which judgment of conviction could be deemed final, including (1) the date on which the trial court enters judgment and sentence, (2) the date of the appeals court's decision, and (3) the date after which the petitioner can no longer petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. See Clarke, 955 F. Supp. at 595 (identifying possible dates on which limitation period begins to run); Bazemore, 929 F. Supp. at 1569 (same). Despite the limited number of alternatives for the date of judgment finality, the Court was unable to locate any decision that explicitly held when the § 2255 limitations period begins to run. Indeed, the few courts that have addressed the issue have, at most, assumed a given proceeding constituted final judgment for the purposes of a particular case only. See, e.g., United States v. Simmonds, 111 F.3d 737, 744 (10th Cir. 1997) ("conviction became 'final' after the Supreme Court denied certiorari . . . ."); Clarke, 955 F. Supp. at 595 ("For the sake of this motion only, this Court will assume . . . the [final] date [as that] on which petitioner could no longer seek direct review by the Supreme Court."); Rienzi, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15588, *5, 1996 WL 605130, at *1 n.7 ("we assume . . . that the judgment here became final when our Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff's direct appeal . . . ."). In this district, determining the definition of "the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final" is an issue of first impression. *fn3" The Court holds that for purposes of motions made pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, the date of the appeals court's decision constitutes the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final.

 In designating the date of the appeals court's decision as the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final, the Court eschews definitions founded upon the date of the trial court's sentencing or of the prisoner's filing for certiorari with the Supreme Court. Defining the final judgment of conviction as the sentencing date would unfairly impose on the petitioner. The opportunity to challenge a conviction to the appeals court constitutes an appeal of right. To begin running the statute of limitations for a § 2255 motion at sentencing would inhibit the petitioner's opportunity to exercise this appeal of right; it would obligate the petitioner to divert attention toward preparing a § 2255 motion, rather than toward preparing an appeal. Accordingly, the Court rejects the date of sentencing as the date of final judgment on which the § 2255 statute of limitations begins to run.

 The Court also declines to define final judgment of conviction based on a prisoner's petitioning the Supreme Court for certiorari. *fn4" In contrast to the direct appeal of right, petitioning for certiorari constitutes a discretionary appeal. *fn5" In exercising this discretion, the Supreme Court rarely grants certiorari in sentencing cases. *fn6" In addition, having exercised the appeal of right, the petitioner has had a fair opportunity to present his federal claims in an appellate forum. Therefore, a judgment perfected by appeal may fairly be deemed a final judgment from which the § 2255 statute of limitations begins to run.

 The Court's decision today may appear to contradict 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the state analog to § 2255; the limitations period under § 2254 generally runs from the date of state supreme court review. The reasons for deviating from the definition of final judgment in the § 2254 context merit discussion, because courts often analogize or distinguish 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See, e.g., United States v. Marron, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17401, Nos. CRIM.A.93-90, CIV.A.95-2231, 1996 WL 677511, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 22, 1996) (analogizing §§ 2254 and 2255 for purposes of ascertaining if prisoners meet the ...


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