The Failure of Words: Habeas Corpus Reform, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and When a Judgment of Conviction Becomes Final for the Purposes of 28 U.S.C. S. 2255(1)

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Originally enacted in 1948, 28 U.S.C. [section] 2255 created a remedy for federal prisoners seeking "to vacate, set aside or correct [a] sentence ...." (1) Section 2255 is "the principal postconviction remedy for federal convicts." (2) Congress "intended to afford federal prisoners a remedy identical in scope to federal habeas corpus." (3) Until 1996, motions filed under [section] 2255 were subject to no statute of limitations (4) and could be filed at any time. (5) The lack of a statue of limitations in [section] 2255 reflected the history of federal habeas corpus. (6)

On April 24, 1996, the 104th Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). (7) The purpose of the AEDPA is "[t]o deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, [and] provide for an effective death penalty...." (8) Title I of the AEDPA, "Habeas Corpus Reform," provides for a one year statute of limitations in [section] 105. (9) This section thus amends 28 U.S.C. [section] 2255. Section 105 provides in pertinent part: "A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to a motion under this section. The limitation period shall run from the latest of--(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final...." (10)

Soon after the passage of the AEDPA, several circuit courts of appeals had to decide when a judgment of conviction becomes "final" for purposes of the new limitation in the case of the prisoner who does not file a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. (11) Specifically, the courts were asked to decide whether the statute of limitations for [section] 2255 motions begins to run when the court of appeals affirms the district court's conviction and sentence, or when the time for filing a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court expires. A minority of courts have held the former, (12) a majority the latter. (13)

In arriving at their different outcomes, both sides of the argument relied heavily upon different constructions (14) of the relevant statutory language. (15) Among the factors the courts measured were the intent of the legislature when enacting the AEDPA, (16) the purpose of the AEDPA, (17) the dictionary definitions of "final" and "judgment of conviction," (18) and, to a much lesser extent, practical (19) and policy considerations. (20) As this Note will illustrate, however, careful analysis of the arguments on each side reveal that the textual, intrinsic arguments fail, leaving only extrinsic factors, policy considerations, and the historical purpose of the writ of habeas corpus to accurately guide courts to the correct conclusion. The conclusion of this Note is that both sides' methods of analysis were faulty and internally inconsistent, and that extrinsic, policy, and historical considerations prove that the conclusion of the Kapral court and the other courts in the majority is, in fact, the correct one. For the purposes of 28 U.S.C. [section] 2255(1), a judgment of conviction becomes final when the time for filing a petition of certiorari expires, not when the court of appeals affirms the conviction and sentence of the defendant.

Part I of this Note briefly sketches the history of habeas corpus, the purposes and historical context of the passage of [section] 2255 in 1948, and the purposes and context of the 1996 AEDPA amendments to [section] 2255. Part II analyzes the arguments behind the conclusions of both the majority and minority of courts, pointing out flaws and weaknesses on each side, focusing principally on the presumptions that each side makes. Part III discusses one of the most relevant and recent Supreme Court decisions, Duncan v. Walker. (21) The analysis of Duncan reveals that although a majority of the Court may be considered textualists, their own reasoning will lead them to conclude that a textualist approach is inappropriate in this case. …


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