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Wood v. Milyard

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: April 24, 2012
Case #: 10-9995
Ginsberg, J., joined by Roberts, C.J., Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion which Scalia, J., joined.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-9995.pdf

Habeas Corpus: Courts of appeals have authority to raise a forfeited timeliness defense sua sponte in exceptional cases, but the court of appeals abused its discretion when it dismissed petitioner’s habeas petition as untimely because the state had deliberately waived the statute of limitations defense.

Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition alleging that his felony murder and second-degree murder convictions violated the Sixth Amendment privilege against double jeopardy, and challenged the validity of his jury trial waiver. The respondent State responded that it would “not challenge, but [was] not conceding, the timeliness of [petitioner’s] habeas petition.” The district court denied relief. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit granted petitioner a certificate of appealability on the merits of his habeas appeal and requested that the parties address the timeliness of the habeas petition. The Tenth Circuit determined that petitioner’s appeal was untimely under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and affirmed the denial.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that courts of appeals, like district courts, have authority to raise a forfeited timeliness defense sua sponte in exceptional cases. The Court considered the fact that in civil litigation a statutory time limitation is forfeited if not raised in a defendant’s answer and is barred from being asserted on appeal. The Court cited Day v. McDonough, which held that federal appellate courts have discretion to consider a timeliness argument inadvertently overlooked by the State in the district court when extraordinary circumstances so warrant. However, the Court distinguished a State’s deliberate waiver of a limitations defense from one which was the result of an inadvertent error. The Court declined to adopt an absolute rule that would bar a court of appeals from raising a forfeited timeliness defense but noted that in this case, the Tenth Circuit abused its discretion when it dismissed the petition as untimely since in the district court the State was well aware of the statute of limitations defense available to it, yet informed the court that it would not “challenge” the timeliness of the petition, thus deliberately waiving the statute of limitations defense.