PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge should have applied a procedural rule known as the "prison mailbox rule" in the case of a inmate challenging his conviction of carjacking and kidnapping, the 9th Circuit ruled.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ruled that California inmate Eduardo Hernandez's federal habeas corpus petition was untimely under a one-year limitation under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act because another prisoner had delivered his petition to prison authorities.
Hernandez is an inmate at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, Calif.
In the court's order, Judge Anderson relied on a report by a magistrate who refused to consider the date Hernandez delivered his petition to prison officials as the date on which it was filed.
But a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit said that was a mistake, noting in the court's summary that the "mailbox rule applies when a pro se habeas petitioner gives his petition to a third party to mail from within the prison."
"Application of the rule has never turned on the identity of the prisoner who physically delivers the petition to prison authorities," U.S. Circuit Judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote for the panel. "After examining the precedential underpinnings of the mailbox rules, we conclude that there is no reason it should."
Berzon said that as a pro se petitioner, Hernandez was at the mercy of prison authorities who had the power to determine when the petition was delivered to the court.
"Once the petitions were deposited with the prison authorities, neither he nor the prisoner who deposited the petitions could monitor the status of the mailings to ensure prompt delivery," Berzon wrote in her 13-page opinion.
Under the statute of limitations, the "operative date" is when the petition was delivered to authorities not when Hernandez gave the petition to his fellow inmate for delivery, Berzon said.
"Because the date on which his petitions were delivered to prison authorities is readily ascertainable through the same systems that monitor a prisoner's own deliveries, there is no risk that applying the prison mailbox rule in this circumstance would circumvent the statute of limitations by allowing for substantive revisions to the petition after the delivery date," the judge wrote.
Berzon rejected prison warden Marion Spearman's claim that applying the procedural rule in Hernandez's case makes it harder for authorities to disprove a prisoner who lies and claims that a petition was filed on time.
"Not so," Berzon countered.
"Prison logbooks could reflect the name of the prisoner who deposited the petition with the prison authorities. From there, it is a simple matter for the court and the Warden to match the logbook entry to the proof of service signed and dated by the third party prisoner, using the same process via which the court and the Warden would use to verify the prisoner's own claims of depositing the petition with prison authorities. Alternatively, prisons could require prisoners depositing mail on behalf of another prisoner to provide the name of the prisoner on whose behalf they are mailing documents," Berzon wrote.
Affirming the court's decision to toll the period between the California Supreme Court's denial of Hernandez's first petition and the filing of his second state habeas petition, the 9th Circuit reversed and remanded.