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Florida prisoner denied federal habeas review of death penalty sentence under AEDPA for failure to file habeas petition within the one-year limitations period

The issue in Walton v. Attorney General, State of Florida was whether Walton’s second state petition for a writ of habeas corpus was properly filed under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) so as to toll the one-year limitations period for filing a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2244, a state court defendant in custody has one year from the date the judgment and sentence becomes final to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The one year limitations period may be tolled by a properly filed application for state court post-conviction or other collateral review. However, an application for post-conviction relief is not properly filed if it is untimely.

Walton was convicted by a Florida court of three murders and sentenced to death. After his convictions and death sentences were affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court, he filed his first application for state collateral review in 1990. On June 30, 2003, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Walton’s motion for post-conviction relief and denied his first habeas petition. One week prior, on June 23, 2003, Walton filed a second habeas petition, and on October 3, 2003, the Florida Supreme Court denied it as successive. On September 30, 2004, Walton filed his federal petition for writ of habeas corpus. The federal district court found that Walton’s second state petition was not timely filed so as to toll the federal limitations period. The district court dismissed the petition and the court of appeals affirmed.

A Florida prisoner sentenced to death may file a post conviction relief in a state court trial court, and petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Florida Supreme Court. But in a death penalty case, all petitions for extraordinary relief, i.e. a habeas petition, must be filed in the Florida Supreme Court simultaneously with the initial brief in the appeal from the denial of a motion for post-conviction relief. Here the defendant did not file his second habeas petition simultaneous with this initial brief in the appeal of the denial of the motion for post-conviction relief. The simultaneous filing requirement is a timing requirement. An untimely state petition is not properly filed and cannot toll the federal limitations period. A post-conviction relief application is not properly filed in state court if it is untimely, and will not operate to toll the one year limitations period for a federal habeas petition.

Walton argued that there is no simultaneous filing rule in the Florida Supreme Court because in several cases petitioners have filed untimely applications for collateral relief in the Florida Supreme Court, which the Court reviewed and denied on the merits. The appellate court held that federal courts cannot ignore the timelines requirement and cannot reject the state’s time bar simply because the state court may opt to bypass the timeliness assessment and summarily deny a petition on the merits. The Florida Supreme Court made clear in the Mann v. Moore opinion that a petition for extraordinary relief including habeas corpus petitions must be filed simultaneously with the initial brief appealing the denial of the Rule 3.850 motion.

The 2244 limitations period will not be tolled if it is clear that petitioner failed to seek timely review in the state court. Walton’s second state habeas petition was untimely and the federal court did not err in dismissing his federal habeas petition.

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