Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 2 (2000)

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474

SLACK v. McDANIEL

Syllabus

a circuit Justice or judge issues a certificate of appealability (COA), 2253(c)(1), and that the COA may issue only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, 2253(c)(2)—even though the habeas petition was filed in the district court before AEDPA's effective date. Slack argues incorrectly that the pre-AEDPA version of the statute, not 2253(c), controls his case because, in Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U. S. 320, 327, this Court held that AEDPA's 2254 amendments governing entitlement to district court habeas relief applied to cases filed after AEDPA's effective date. In implementing Lindh, it must be recognized that 2254 is directed to district court proceedings while 2253 is directed to appellate proceedings. Just as 2254 applies to cases filed in the trial court post-AEDPA, 2253 applies to appellate proceedings initiated post-AEDPA. Although Lindh requires a court of appeals to apply pre-AEDPA law in reviewing the trial court's ruling in cases commenced there pre-AEDPA, post-AEDPA law governs the right to appeal in cases such as the present. While an appeal is a continuation of the litigation started in the trial court, it is a distinct step. E. g., Hohn v. United States, 524 U. S. 236, 241. Under AEDPA, an appellate case is commenced when the application for a COA is filed. Ibid. When Congress instructs that application of a statute is triggered by the commencement of a case, the relevant case for a statute directed to appeals is the one initiated in the appellate court. Because Slack sought appellate review of the dismissal of his habeas petition two years after AEDPA's effective date, 2253(c) governs here, and Slack must apply for a COA. The Ninth Circuit should have treated his notice of appeal as such an application. Pp. 480-482.

2. When the district court denies a habeas petition on procedural grounds without reaching the prisoner's underlying constitutional claim, a COA should issue (and an appeal of the district court's order may be taken) if the prisoner shows, at least, that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim of the denial of a constitutional right, and that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the district court was correct in its procedural ruling. Pp. 483-485.

(a) The Court rejects the State's contentions that, because 2253(c) provides that a COA may issue upon the "substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right," only constitutional rulings may be appealed, and no appeal can be taken if the district court relies on procedural grounds to dismiss the petition. In setting forth the preconditions for issuance of a COA under 2253(c), Congress expressed no intention to allow trial court procedural error to bar vindication of substantial constitutional rights on appeal. This conclusion follows from

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