5th Circuit Habeas Petition Makes it to SCOTUS

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 15, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision is having its day in the Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the 5th Circuit habeas case of Rafael Arriaza Gonzalez.

Gonzalez did not file his habeas petition within the one year statute of limitations, reports Courthouse News. This raised several questions on whether or not his writ for habeas was properly denied by the Fifth Circuit and the lower courts.

Quick facts:

In 2005, Rafael Gonzalez was convicted of murder and sentenced to thirty years in prison. He appealed his conviction to the Texas Court of Appeals and his conviction was affirmed. He failed to file a petition for discretionary review within the thirty-day limit under Texas Appellate Rules (by August 11, 2006) and was issued a mandate on September 26, 2006.

Later, however, he filed two writs for habeas corpus in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and both were denied. Finally, in 2008, he filed a petition for habeas corpus in the district court and his case was dismissed for being time-barred under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The one-year was calculated from the date Gonzalez could no longer petition for discretionary review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on August 11, 2006.

Gonzalez, however, argued that the clock started ticking on the date the mandate was issued: September 26, 2006. The district court overruled Gonzalez's objections and the case came before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's opinion.

The law:

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the time for seeking review was determined in the Roberts v. Cockrell case. There, the court held that the issuance of a mandate was irrelevant to determining when a judgment became final.

What's important here is the question as to whether Roberts had been overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court. According to Gonzalez's attorneys, the Supreme Court had overruled Roberts in Lawrence v. Florida. Here, the Fifth Circuit made the distinction between the use of the word "mandate" in the Lawrence case and the mandate in question in Gonzalez's case, citing that the mandate in the former was a state court's mandate denying the prisoner's post-conviction habeas petition as opposed to a mandate affirming the original conviction.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on June 13, 2011 and will be reviewing the case.

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