Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522 (2003)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 01-1500. Argued January 13, 2003—Decided March 4, 2003

Petitioner Clay was convicted of arson and a drug offense in Federal District Court. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his convictions on November 23, 1998, and that court's mandate issued on December 15, 1998. Clay did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari. The time in which he could have done so expired 90 days after entry of the Court of Appeals' judgment and 69 days after issuance of its mandate. One year and 69 days after the Court of Appeals issued its mandate, and exactly one year after the time for seeking certiorari expired, Clay filed a motion for postconviction relief under 28 U. S. C. 2255. Such motions are subject to a one-year time limitation that generally runs from "the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final." 2255, ¶ 6(1). Relying on Circuit precedent, the District Court stated that when a federal prisoner does not seek certiorari, his judgment of conviction becomes final for 2255 purposes upon issuance of the court of appeals' mandate. Because Clay filed his 2255 motion more than one year after that date, the court denied it as time barred. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Held: For the purpose of starting the clock on 2255's one-year limitation period, a judgment of conviction becomes final when the time expires for filing a petition for certiorari contesting the appellate court's affirmation of the conviction. Pp. 527-532.

(a) Finality has a long-recognized, clear meaning in the postconviction relief context: Finality attaches in that setting when this Court affirms a conviction on the merits on direct review or denies a petition for a writ of certiorari, or when the time for filing a certiorari petition expires. See, e. g., Caspari v. Bohlen, 510 U. S. 383, 390. Because the Court presumes "that Congress expects its statutes to be read in conformity with this Court's precedents," United States v. Wells, 519 U. S. 482, 495, the Court's unvarying understanding of finality for collateral review purposes would ordinarily determine the meaning of "becomes final" in 2255. Pp. 527-528.

(b) Supporting the Seventh Circuit's judgment, the Court's invited amicus curiae urges a different determinant, relying on verbal differences between 2255 and 2244(d)(1), which governs petitions for federal habeas corpus by state prisoners. Where 2255, ¶ 6(1), refers simply to "the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final,"

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