Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 6 (2003)

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Cite as: 537 U. S. 522 (2003)

Opinion of the Court


Finality is variously defined; like many legal terms, its precise meaning depends on context. Typically, a federal judgment becomes final for appellate review and claim preclusion purposes when the district court disassociates itself from the case, leaving nothing to be done at the court of first instance save execution of the judgment. See, e. g., Quack-enbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U. S. 706, 712 (1996); Restatement (Second) of Judgments 13, Comment b (1980). For other purposes, finality attaches at a different stage. For example, for certain determinations under the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, 18 U. S. C. 3161 et seq., and under a now-repealed version of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, several lower courts have held that finality attends issuance of the appellate court's mandate. See Brief for Amicus Curiae by Invitation of the Court 22-28 (hereinafter DeBruin Brief) (citing cases). For the purpose of seeking review by this Court, in contrast, "[t]he time to file a petition for a writ of certiorari runs from the date of entry of the judgment or order sought to be reviewed, and not from the issuance date of the mandate (or its equivalent under local practice)." This Court's Rule 13(3).

Here, the relevant context is postconviction relief, a context in which finality has a long-recognized, clear meaning: Finality attaches 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 (1994); Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U. S. 314, 321, n. 6 (1987); Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U. S. 880, 887 (1983); United States v. Johnson, 457 U. S. 537, 542, n. 8 (1982); Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U. S. 618, 622, n. 5 (1965). Because "we presume that Congress expects its statutes to be read in conformity with this Court's precedents," United States v. Wells, 519 U. S. 482, 495 (1997), our unvarying understanding


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