Newly Recognized Right Restarts the Statute of Limitations

Both criminal and constitutional law evolve over time. The U.S. Supreme Court, as the final arbiter of all constitutional questions, will sometimes create new rights that apply to criminal defendants. If a new statutory or constitutional right recognized by the Court is made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review, 28 U.S.C. §2255(f)(3) allows federal prisoners one year from the recognition of the right to file a section 2255 motion asserting the right. This article discusses this complex interplay between the U.S. Supreme Court’s actions and how a newly recognized right restarts the statute of limitations.

U.S. Supreme Court Must Recognize a Right; Any Federal Court Must Declare the Right Retroactively Applicable

Note two important points at the outset: First, only rights recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court trigger §2255(f)(3); Second, while it is the U.S.  Supreme Court that recognizes new rights for the purposes of §2255(f)(3), any lower federal district court can declare a new right newly recognized right, U.S. Supreme Court, restarts statute of limitationsretroactively applicable on collateral review. In fact, the U.S.  Supreme Court rarely declares a newly established right retroactive when it announces the new rule. More often than not, a lower court will do so, and when this is done, it restarts the statute of limitations for those so effected.

This is a potential trap for federal prisoners who wish to file a section 2255 motion based on a newly recognized right. As the U.S. Supreme Court announced in Dodd v. United States, 545 U.S. 353 (2005), the one-year period begins to run when the right is recognized, not when it is declared retroactively applicable. In practice, this means that federal prisoners who wish to file a section 2255 motion based on a new right must not wait for the right to be declared retroactively applicable, despite the language of §2255(f)(3).

Determining When the U.S. Supreme Court Recognizes a New Right

Determining when the U.S. Supreme Court has “recognized” a new right can be difficult. In a recent appellate case, the Fourth Circuit said that the U.S. Supreme Court has “recognized” an asserted right, for purposes of §2255(f)(3), “if it has formally acknowledged that right in a definite way.” United States v. Brown, 868 F.3d 297, 301 (4th Cir. 2017). By this court’s reasoning, the only place to find a newly recognized right is in the narrow holding of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion. If the existence of the right is debatable as a matter of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, then the top court hasn’t actually “recognized” the right.

The dissent in Brown illustrates the difficulty of determining when the Supreme Court has recognized a new right. Chief Judge Gregory said that the majority was wrong, and that §2255(f)(3) doesn’t say anything about determining when the U.S. Supreme Court has “recognized” a new right. In Judge Gregory’s view, a petitioner shouldn’t be limited to asserting the right as expressed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow holding; a newly recognized right “is more sensibly read to include the reasoning and principles that explain it.”

There are times when it is possible to say that a new right was not created, however. If, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court merely applies existing precedent to a new factual situation, the resulting ruling will not have created a newly recognized right.

When it comes to statutory interpretation, most courts agree that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes a new right when it “officially acknowledges the appropriate statutory meaning.” See, e.g., United States v. Lopez, 248 F.3d 427, 431 (5th Cir. 2001). A good example of this kind of newly recognized right can be found in Bailey v. United States, 516 U.S. 137 (1995), where the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a new right by declaring that conduct which had previously supported a criminal conviction in every circuit was, in fact, not criminal conduct at all. This is an example of a case which restarts the statute of limitations for 2255 purposes.

Teague and Graham: What Holdings Restarts the Statute of Limitations?

For a newly recognized right to trigger the one-year limitation period in §2255(f)(3), the right must apply retroactively to cases on collateral review. In Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court set forth the test for determining whether a prior holding announced a new rule and, if so, whether the rule was to be applied retroactively. Under Teague, new substantive rules apply retroactively on collateral review; new rules of procedure, however, only apply retroactively in two limited circumstances. First, a new rule of procedure will apply retroactively when it “places a class of private conduct beyond the power of the State to proscribe” or prohibits “a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense.” Graham v. Collins, 506 U.S. 461 (1993). Second, a new rule of procedure will apply retroactively when the new rule is a “watershed rule of criminal procedure.” Graham, 506 U.S. at 478.

The Teague doctrine greatly reduced the availability of section 2255 relief. Please click here to learn more about Teague.

2255 Attorneys Who Understand Newly Recognized Rights, What Restarts the Statute of Limitations, and U.S. Supreme Court Practice

The §2255(f)(3) statute of limitations period is a very complicated and heavily litigated area of habeas corpus practice. At the Law Offices of Brandon Sample, we offer a dedicated  team of professionals who have the experience and legal acumen you need to ensure the best possibility of success with your section 2255 motion. Contact us now, and we will ensure to give your section 2255 motion the best possible chance at success. Don’t delay. Not many U.S. Supreme Court cases recognize new rights applicable to those on collateral review or restart the statute of limitations. Get an honest look today before your time runs out.

Newly Recognized Right Restarts the Statute of Limitations FAQs

Q: What is a newly recognized right?

A: For purposes of section 2255, a newly recognized right is a U.S. Supreme Court decision that establishes a new, substantive rule of law. For example, when the U.S. Supreme Court officially acknowledges the appropriate meaning of a statute, the Court has recognized a new right. The Court also recognizes a new right when it declares that conduct which previously supported a criminal conviction is actually not criminal at all.

Q: Must a newly recognized right also be retroactively applicable to toll the section 2255 statute of limitations? Asked another way, this restarts the statute of limitations?

A:  Yes. In order for a newly recognized right to apply to cases on collateral review (section 2255 motions), the right must be declared retroactively applicable.

Q: The U.S. Supreme Court created a newly recognized right, but did not say whether it was retroactively applicable. Is the statute of limitations tolled?

A: Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court typically does not declare new rights retroactive or not, and until a lower court does so, the new rule will not toll the statute. The §2255(f)(3) tolling provision is complicated for this reason. To make matters worse, if a lower court does declare the right retroactively applicable, the statute of limitations does not start running at that point; the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Dodd v. United States, 545 U.S. 353 (2005), that the one-year period begins running when the right was established, which will almost always pre-date the retroactivity decision. If you find yourself in this precarious situation, contact us for a consultation immediately.

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