April 24, 2012
Supreme Court Action Today: Timeliness of a Habeas Petition
The Supreme Court issued one opinion today. The case is Wood v. Milyard (10-9995). The case concerns whether a court have the ability to consider timeliness of a habeas petition on its own initiative, and if so, whether certain representations made by the State affect this ability. The latter is affected by the facts of the case. Woods filed a habeas petition in 2008. The District Court initially dismissed the petition as untimely, but reconsidered and asked Colorado to respond to the issue of timeliness in the proceeding. The State filed an answer that read “Respondents will not challenge, but are not conceding, the timeliness of Wood’s [federal] habeas petition.” The District Court then dismissed certain claims on procedural grounds, and others on the merits. The Tenth Circuit on appeal held the petition time barred.
The Court considered its past precedent and concluded that district courts are permitted, but not obliged to consider, sua sponte, the timeliness of a state prisoner’s habeas petition. Past precedent analogized by the Court included waiver of exhaustion of remedies. It reversed the Tenth Circuit, affirming a court’s ability to spot issues not raised by the parties, because the issue of timeliness was in fact raised and, as a practical matter, waived by Colorado at the District Court. The case was remanded. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Scalia. Justice Thomas believes the precedent relied on by the Court was wrongly decided. [MG]