AEDPA | Antiterrorism and Effective Dealth Penalty Act of 1996

On April 24, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) into law. The AEDPA made numerous changes to the statutes governing federal habeas corpus practice for all state and federal prisoners.

How the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) Complicated Habeas Corpus

To say that the AEDPA complicated section 2255 motion practice would be a tremendous understatement. In a 2015 article appearing in the AEDPA, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty ActMichigan Law Review, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called the AEDPA “a twisted labyrinth of deliberately crafted legal obstacles that make it as difficult for habeas petitioners to succeed in pursuing the writ as it would be for a Supreme Court justice to strike out Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in succession.” A federal prisoner wishing to pursue a section 2255 motion would be wise to carefully study the changes wrought by the AEDPA.

AEDPA Changes

Three such changes bear discussion here.  First, the AEDPA imposed a one-year statute of limitations on the filing of a section 2255 motion.  Second, the AEDPA added a requirement that an unsuccessful 2255 movant obtain a “certificate of appealability” in order to perfect an appeal. Third, the AEDPA made it extraordinarily difficult for a federal prisoner to obtain relief on a second or successive 2255 motion.

AEDPA Statute of Limitations

The AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations can be found in 28 U.S.C. §2255(f). According to the statute, the one-year statute of limitations “run[s] from the latest of:

  • the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
  • the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action; (3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or (4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.”

In general, a federal prisoner has one year from the date on which the time to appeal ended, or from the date on which the appeal process was completed, to file a section 2255 motion. This timeframe is not flexible, and the penalty for exceeding the AEDPA’s statute of limitations is usually dismissal with prejudice. For more on the §2255(f) statute of limitations, including further discussion of (f)(2)-(4), please click here.

Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act: Certificate of Appealability

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 imposed a new requirement on federal prisoners who wish to appeal an unsuccessful section 2255 motion. Section 2255 litigants must now obtain a “certificate of appealability” in order to perfect an appeal. Prior to the AEDPA, a timely notice of appeal conferred jurisdiction on an appellate court. Post-AEDPA, an appellate court cannot entertain the appeal of a section 2255 motion absent a certificate of appealability.

Obtaining a certificate of appealability is no easy task. Such a certificate may issue “only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. §2253(c)( 2). That standard is met when “reasonable jurists could debate whether (or, for that matter, agree that) the petition should have been resolved in a different manner.” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 478, 484 (2000). Note, though, that obtaining a certificate of appealability “does not require a showing that the appeal will succeed” and “a court of appeals should not decline the application . . . merely because it believes the applicant will not demonstrate an entitlement to relief.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 337 (2003).

The certificate of appealability process is complex. Click here for more on this AEDPA-imposed requirement.

AEDPA: Second or Successive 2255 Motion

Prior to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, federal prisoners faced an uphill battle when pursuing a second or successive 2255 motion. Courts were not required to entertain a second or successive motion “for similar relief on behalf of the same prisoner.” Post-AEDPA, federal prisoners face nearly insurmountable obstacles to filing a second or successive 2255 motion. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255(h), “[a] second or successive motion must be certified as provided in section 2244 by a panel of the appropriate court of appeals to contain–(1) newly discovered evidence that, if proven and viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found the movant guilty of the offense; or (2) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable.”

AEDPA: Procedural and Substantive Changes

The changes made to §2255(h) by the AEDPA are both procedural and substantive in nature. Procedurally, the AEDPA instituted a gatekeeping mechanism in §2255(h). A federal prisoner may not even file a second or successive section 2255 motion without first obtaining permission from the circuit court of appeals. Substantively, the AEDPA now requires a second or successive section 2255 motion to contain new evidence, sufficient to establish that no reasonable factfinder would have found the movant guilty, or a retroactively applicable new rule of constitutional law. Learn more about second or successive section 2255 motions, post-AEDPA here.

Judge Reinhardt wasn’t kidding when he referred to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 as a twisted labyrinth. If you or a loved one are considering filing a section 2255 motion, don’t go it alone. At the Law Offices of Brandon Sample, we know the ins and outs of the AEDPA, 2255 motions, and habeas corpus law. Our team of dedicated legal professionals will ensure that you don’t run afoul of any AEDPA traps. Contact us today to discuss your options.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Penalty Act (AEDPA) FAQs

Q: What is the AEDPA?

A: The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) is a federal law that made various and sundry changes to federal habeas corpus practice. The AEDPA greatly complicated section 2255 motion practice, and made obtaining relief through habeas corpus much less likely.

Q: How will the AEDPA impact my section 2255 motion?

A: Most significantly, the AEDPA imposed a one-year statute of limitations on the filing of a section 2255 motion. The AEDPA also now requires that all unsuccessful section 2255 movants obtain a “certificate of appealability” before an appellate court can hear an appeal. Finally, the AEDPA imposed debilitating restrictions on those who wish to file a second or successive section 2255 motion. In fact, the AEDPA has made it nearly impossible to file a second section 2255 motion. If you find yourself facing an AEDPA restriction on your section 2255 motion, contact one of our experienced habeas corpus litigators to discuss the case.

Q: I want to appeal the denial of my section 2255 motion. How do I obtain a certificate of appealability?

A: In order to obtain a certificate of appealability, you must make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. That standard is met when you establish that “reasonable jurists could debate (or, for that matter, agree that) the petition should have been resolved in a different manner.” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 478, 484 (2000). Needless to say, this standard is not easy to meet. Contact us now if you want to discuss appealing the denial of your section 2255 motion.

Q: I want to file a second or successive section 2255 motion. What does the AEDPA require of me?

A: If you have already filed a section 2255 motion, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 prohibits you from filing a second 2255 motion without authorization from a court of appeals. A court of appeals will authorize a second section 2255 motion when the  motion contains “(l) newly discovered evidence that, if proved and viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would be sufficient to establish clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found the movant guilty of the offense; or (2) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable.” 28 U.S.C. §2255(h). If you want to file a second or successive section 2255 motion, contact our office to consult with an experienced attorney. We can help you put your best foot forward with all of your 2255 motion and habeas corpus needs.

Related Content

The History of Habeas Corpus

The §2255(e) Savings Clause: Use §2241 When §2255 is Inadequate and Ineffective

Extraordinary Remedies and Recharacterization

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap