UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
April 24, 2008
PATRICK FRANCES, PETITIONER,
MIKE POWER, ET. AL., RESPONDENTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Greenaway, Jr., District Judge
This matter is before the Court on petitioner Patrick Frances' petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For reasons discussed below, it appears from review of the petition and the accompanying documents that the petition for habeas corpus relief is subject to dismissal as time-barred, under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Petitioner, Patrick Frances ("Frances"), filed a petition seeking habeas corpus relief on or about February 13, 2008.*fn1
Based on his petition, Frances was convicted in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Passaic County, pursuant to a plea of guilty to aggravated assault. Frances was sentenced on June 12, 1998 to eight (8) years in prison with a 85% parole ineligibility term. (Petition at ¶¶ 1-6).
Frances did not file a direct appeal from his judgment of conviction; instead, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR") in state court, claiming that his guilty plea should be set aside because he did not understand the full consequences of his plea and because his trial counsel was ineffective. (Petition at ¶¶ 8-11). Frances does not provide the date on which he filed his first and only state PCR petition. However, he indicates that the state PCR petition was denied on July 13, 2005. (Petition at ¶ 11(a)(6)). Petitioner further asserts that he filed an appeal from the denial of his state PCR petition to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division and to the New Jersey Supreme Court. (Petition at ¶ 11(e)). Frances does not provide the date when these appeals were decided by the state court.*fn2
Thus, based on the allegations in the petition and the record provided by petitioner, this Court will issue an Order to Show Cause directing the parties to show cause, in writing, why Frances' habeas petition should not be dismissed as time-barred.*fn3
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A pro se pleading is held to less stringent standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A pro se habeas petition and any supporting submissions must be construed liberally and with a measure of tolerance. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir. 1998).
III. STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ANALYSIS
The limitation period for a § 2254 habeas petition is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d), which provides in pertinent part:
(1) A 1-year period of limitations shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court. The limitation period shall run from the latest of--
(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review; ...
(2) The time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this section.
Section 2244(d) became effective on April 24, 1996 when the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") was signed into law. See Burns v. Morton, 134 F.3d 109, 111 (3d Cir. 1998); Duarte v. Herschberger, 947 F. Supp. 146, 147 (D.N.J. 1996). The Third Circuit has ruled that state prisoners whose convictions became final before the April 24, 1996 enactment of AEDPA are permitted one year, until April 23, 1997, in which to file a federal habeas petition under § 2254. See Burns, 134 F.3d at 111. See also Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326-27 (1997)("[t]he statute reveals Congress' intent to apply the amendments to chapter 153 only to such cases as were filed after the statute's enactment").
Thus, pursuant to § 2244(d), evaluation of the timeliness of a § 2254 petition requires a determination of, first, when the pertinent judgment became "final," and, second, the period of time during which an application for state post-conviction relief was "properly filed" and "pending."
A state-court criminal judgment becomes "final" within the meaning of § 2244(d)(1) by the conclusion of direct review or by the expiration of time for seeking such review, including the 90-day period for filing a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States. See Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d 417, 419 (3d Cir. 2000); Morris v. Horn, 187 F.3d 333, 337 n.1 (3d Cir. 1999); cf. SUP. CT. R. 13.
As noted above, where a conviction became final prior to April 24, 1996, the effective date of § 2244(d), a state prisoner has a one-year grace period after that effective date to file a § 2254 petition. Burns, 134 F.3d at 111. However, that limitations period is tolled during the time a properly filed application for state post-conviction relief is pending. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). An application for state post-conviction relief is considered "pending" within the meaning of § 2244(d)(2), and the limitations period is statutorily tolled, from the time it is "properly filed,"*fn4 during the period between a lower state court's decision and the filing of a notice of appeal to a higher court, Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214 (2002), and through the time in which an appeal could be filed, even if the appeal is never filed, Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d at 420-24. Nevertheless, "the time during which a state prisoner may file a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court from the denial of his state post-conviction petition does not toll the one year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2)." Stokes v. District Attorney of the County of Philadelphia, 247 F.3d 539, 542 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 959 (2001).
The limitations period of § 2244(d) is also subject to equitable tolling. Fahy v. Horn, 240 F.3d 239, 244 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 944 (2001); Jones v. Morton, 195 F.3d 153, 159 (3d Cir. 1999). "Generally, a litigant seeking equitable tolling bears the burden of establishing two elements: (1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way." Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 416-17 (2005). The Third Circuit instructs that equitable tolling is appropriate when "principles of equity would make the rigid application of a limitation period unfair, such as when a state prisoner faces extraordinary circumstances that prevent him from filing a timely habeas petition and the prisoner has exercised reasonable diligence in attempting to investigate and bring his claims." LaCava v. Kyler, 398 F.3d 271, 275-76 (3d Cir. 2005). Mere excusable neglect is not sufficient. Id.; Miller, 145 F.3d at 618-19; Jones, 195 F.3d at 159.
Extraordinary circumstances permitting equitable tolling have been found where: (1) the petitioner has been actively misled; (2) the petitioner has been prevented from asserting his rights in some extraordinary way; (3) the petitioner timely asserted his rights in the wrong forum, see Jones, 195 F.3d at 159, or (4) the court has misled a party regarding the steps that the party needs to take to preserve a claim, see Brinson v. Vaughn, 398 F.3d 225, 230 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 126 S.Ct. 473 (2005).*fn5 Even where extraordinary circumstances exist, however, "[i]f the person seeking equitable tolling has not exercised reasonable diligence in attempting to file after the extraordinary circumstances began, the link of causation between the extraordinary circumstances and the failure to file is broken, and the extraordinary circumstances therefore did not prevent timely filing." Brown v. Shannon, 322 F.3d 768, 773 (3d Cir.)(quoting Valverde v. Stinson, 224 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000)), cert. denied, 539 U.S. 948 (2003).
Here, Frances' judgment of conviction became final after the enactment of AEDPA. Because Frances did not file a direct appeal, his conviction and sentence became final, and his statute of limitations for filing a habeas petition began to run, on the date on which the time for filing a direct appeal expired. See Kapral v. United States, 166 F.3d 565, 577 (3d Cir. 1999). A judgment of conviction was entered on June 12, 1998. Under New Jersey state court rules, the time for filing a direct appeal expired 45 days thereafter, on or about July 27, 1998. See N.J.Ct.R. 2:4-1(a). Thus, for purposes of determining when the statute of limitations would start to run, Frances had one year from July 27, 1998, or until July 27, 1999, to file his federal habeas petition under § 2254.
Frances alleges in his petition that he filed a state PCR petition, but he does not indicate the date on which he filed it. To permit tolling of the one-year limitations period under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2), Frances would have had to file his petition before the one-year period had expired, or before July 27, 1999. Otherwise, the state PCR petition would not serve to toll the statute of limitations. Here, there is no indication that Frances filed his state PCR petition before July 27, 1999. He provides only the date that his petition was denied -- July 13, 2005, which is almost six years later.
As noted above, Frances did not file this federal habeas petition until February 13, 2008, more than three years after his state PCR petition was denied on July 13, 2005,*fn6 and almost eleven years after the one-year statutory limitations period had expired on July 27, 1999.
Under the Supreme Court's ruling in Day v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 198 (2006), district courts are permitted to consider sua sponte the timeliness of a state inmate's habeas petition, but must accord the parties fair notice and an opportunity to present their positions.
It would appear that Frances disregarded or miscalculated the statutory limitations period when he failed to count the time his limitations period began to run after his conviction became final on or about July 27, 1998, and before he filed his state PCR petition. Miscalculation of the remaining time on a limitations period does not constitute extraordinary circumstances to permit equitable tolling. Fahey, 240 F.3d at 244; see also Johnson v. Hendricks, 314 F.3d 159, 161, 163 (3d Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 1022 (2003). Moreover, even if Frances was ignorant of the fact that the limitations period began to run on July 27, 1998, when his conviction became final under AEDPA, ignorance of the law, even for an incarcerated pro se petitioner, generally does not excuse prompt filing. Fisher v. Johnson, 174 F.3d 710, 714 (5th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1164 (2001). Courts have been loathe to excuse late filings simply because a pro se prisoner misreads the law. Delaney v. Matesanz, 264 F.3d 7, 15 (1st Cir. 2001); see also Jones, 195 F.3d at 159-60.
Nevertheless, before this Court can dismiss this action as time-barred, it is appropriate that the parties be given the opportunity to address the issue of timeliness. See Day v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 198 (2006).
This Court finds that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 may be subject to dismissal as time-barred under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). This Court shall order the parties to show cause, in writing, why this petition should or should not be dismissed as untimely.
An appropriate order follows.
JOSEPH A. GREENAWAY, JR., U.S.D.J.