Johnson v. United States, No. 03-9685 (U.S. April 4, 2005) : In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court by Justice Souter ruled that when a petitioner files a § 2255 petition based on a claim that his federal sentence was improperly enhanced by a state conviction that was vacated subsequent to the federal sentencing, AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations starts running as of the date that the petitioner receives notice of the state court order vacating the predicate state conviction. However, the Court also ruled that a petitioner can take advantage of this rule only if he has sought vacatur of his state conviction with due diligence after the district court has entered judgment in the federal case. Because the petitioner Johnson waited more than 3 years after entry of judgment in the federal case to file a motion in state court to vacate the predicate convictions, and proffered no excuse for the delay apart from his status as a pro se litigant, the Court concluded that “Johnson fell far short of reasonable diligence in challenging the state conviction” and thus that his § 2255 was untimely.
Justice Kennedy dissented, joined by the very odd line-up of Justices Stevens, Scalia, and Ginsburg. The dissent agreed with the majority that AEDPA’s one-year clock should begin running as of the date that petitioner receives notice of the state court order vacating the state conviction, but rejected the additional requirement of due diligence in seeking the state remedy.
The lesson of Johnson is relatively simple. Defendants sentenced under a statute (e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 922(e), the Armed Career Criminal Act) or a Guidelines provision (e.g., §4B1.1, the Career Offender Guideline) that call for an enhancement of the federal sentence based on a prior state conviction (or convictions) who wish to eventually challenge their federal sentences under § 2255 must exercise “reasonable diligence” in seeking to vacate the predicate convictions once judgment has been entered by the district court. The key point to remember is that due diligence is measured from when the federal judgment of conviction is entered, not when the judgment becomes final (i.e., when the appeal has been affirmed and cert. has been denied).
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