Willamette Law Online

United States Supreme Court


Gonzalez v. Thaler

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: January 10, 2012
Case #: 10-895
Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.J., and Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-895.pdf

Habeas Corpus: A judge's failure to indicate a constitutional issue as required in 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(3) does not deprive the Court of Appeals of subject matter jurisdiction because §2253(c)(3) is not a jurisdictional requirement. Additionally for a state prisoner who does not seek review in the State's highest court, the judgment becomes "final" for the purpose of calculating the one-year limitation period of 28 U.S.C. §2244(d)(1)(A) on the date that the time for seeking such review expires.

Rafael Gonzalez was convicted of murder in Texas state court and his conviction was affirmed by the Texas Court of Appeals. Gonzalez did not seek review with the state’s highest court for criminal appeals and the time for seeking review expired on August 11, 2006. Gonzalez filed a federal habeas corpus claim, alleging violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial on January 24, 2008. The District Court dismissed the petition as time barred without discussing the constitutional claim. It stated that the tolling began on August 11, 2006 and therefore the time elapsed on December 17, 2007. The Fifth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability (COA) under 28 U.S.C § 2253(c) but failed to mention the Sixth Amendment issue. It then affirmed the District Court, noting that other circuits start tolling on the date that the intermediate state appellate court issued its mandate. Neither court addressed the alleged Sixth Amendment issue.

The Supreme Court held that the §2253(c)(3) requirement that the COA indicate denial of a constitutional right is not a jurisdictional issue. It reasoned that if Congress wanted this defect to eliminate jurisdiction they would have been clear as they were in § 2253(c)(1) which required a COA to be issued before federal courts have jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court also held that the judgment became “final” for the purpose of calculating the one-year limitation period of 28 U.S.C. §2244(d)(1)(A) on the date that the time for seeking such review expires and therefore Gonzalez’s petition was time barred affirming the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.