Eighth Circuit Panel Split Over Whether Statute of Limitations Binds Court’s Sua Sponte Authority

By: Administrator on January 22nd, 2013

By Ryan Koopmans

Last week in United States v. Daily, a majority of a three-judge panel ruled that a district court can resentence a criminal defendant sua sponte even though the statute of limitations has passed for post-conviction relief.

Carlous Daily was convicted of armed robbery, among other crimes, and sentenced to 444 months in prison.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed the conviction, and Daily filed for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 within the one-year limitations period.  Later, and after the limitations period expired, Daily  moved to amend his § 2255 motion to challenge the calculation of his guidelines sentencing range.  Seeing that the amendment was untimely, the district court rejected it.  That wasn’t the end of case, though: On further investigation, the court noticed a different sentencing error and sua sponte reduced Daily’s sentence to 420 months.

The government appealed, arguing that the court had no authority to grant relief  outside of the statute of limitations.  A majority of the Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court, reasoning that it may be “desirable” to put a “time limit on when a district court can notice an error in a habeas,” but ultimately concluding “that is a matter for an appropriate rule-making authority, not this court.”

Judge Colloton dissented:

If Carlous Daily had sought to supplement his pending 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion based on the same ground raised by the district court on the same date that the district court raised it, then the district court would have been required to reject Daily’s request as untimely. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). Under the majority’s approach, however, a district court may deny an untimely movant’s request to supplement but then immediately grant relief sua sponte on the same ground. I disagree that a district court has such authority to circumvent the statute of limitations, and I would reverse the district court’s sua sponte modification of Daily’s sentence.

Assuming the majority opinion stands (the government has already asked for an extension to file a petition for rehearing en banc), judges in the Eighth Circuit will now have discretion to waive the statute of limitations, so long as the defendant has made at least one timely § 2255 argument.  If the defendant raises additional issues after the limitations period expires, the district court must reject the amendment but can still take up the argument sua sponte.   Of course, some judges will be more willing to exercise that discretion than others.

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