Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Judge Must Tell Pro Se Petitioners They Can Refile After Faulty Habeas Claims Were Dismissed—Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Federal trial judges must tell pro se habeas corpus petitioners who improperly include unexhausted claims in their petitions that they can resubmit with just the exhausted claims, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
Although represented petitioners must rely on their lawyers to make sure they file properly, the court said, district judges must take the step of advising a petitioner without a lawyer that the petition can be corrected and refiled.
There is no question, Judge William C. Canby Jr. wrote for the Ninth Circuit, that petitioner Douglas James had the right to amend his petition by deleting the unexhausted claims and to proceed with the exhausted claim.
“However, because the district court dismissed James’ petition at the same time that it explained the deficiency in the petition and failed to tell him that he could amend the petition, he did not have an opportunity to amend and proceed with the exhausted claim,” Canby said.
The ruling continues the long-running case of James, who is serving three consecutive life sentences in state prison for kidnapping and robbery.
James filed a petition for federal habeas review on the day before the one-year statute of limitations established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow of the Central District of California dismissed his petition without prejudice because it contained both exhausted and unexhausted claims.
Because he had waited until the last day to file, he could not refile with just his exhausted claim.
Federal courts may not entertain habeas petitions that combine both types of claim. In the 1982 case of Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, the Supreme Court explained that a petitioner who did submit such a claim would have the choice of returning to state court to exhaust the claims or amending or resubmitting the habeas petition to present only the already-exhausted claims to the district court.
In the 1987 case of Noll v. Carlson and the 1992 case of Ferdik v. Bonzelet, the Ninth Circuit ruled that before dismissing a pro se litigant the district court must provide notice of the complaint’s deficiencies.
The reasoning of those cases applies to habeas cases, Canby said.
The state argued that its motions to dismiss for failure to exhaust provided James with sufficient notice of the problems in his petition before the court dismissed it. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, saying Ferdik and Noll “place the burden of advising the pro se litigant squarely on the court.”
The court remanded James’ case to the district court.
The case is James v. Pliler, 98-5671.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company