THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS
March 7th, 2011
surprise unanimous decision the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled
in favor of an inmate. The Court ruled that collateral review is
supplemental to the direct appeal process. A win for habeas practitioners
and inmates alike.
Inmate Can Get Collateral Review, High Court Rules
By DAN MCCUE
WASHINGTON (CN) - A Rhode Island prisoner jailed on multiple first-degree
rape charges more than a 11 years ago can file a motion seeking a lighter
sentence, the Supreme Court said Monday.
Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Samuel Alito said that because
Khalil Kholi was requesting a "collateral review" of his multiple life
sentences, and not a direct review of his conviction itself, his request
annulled a one-year deadline for filing a federal habeas petition.
The justices found that the case turned on the phrase "collateral review,"
with the point of controversy being a disagreement between the parties as to
how that phrase should be defined.
"Rhode Island argued that 'collateral review' includes only legal challenges
to a conviction or sentence and thus excludes motions seeking a
discretionary sentence reduction," Alito wrote. "Kholi, on the other hand,
maintained that 'collateral review' is 'review other than review of a
judgment in the direct appeal process' and thus includes motions to reduce
The high court agreed with Kholi's understanding of the phrase.
Kholi was convicted on 10 counts of first-degree sexual assault in 1993, and
was sentenced to consecutive life terms. His 1996 motion to reduce that
sentence was denied by the state superior court and then upheld by the state
While his appeal was pending in the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Kholi filed
a petition for post-conviction relief in state superior court, which was
rejected in 2003. The decision was affirmed by the Rhode Island Supreme
Court in 2006.
In 2007, Kholi filed for habeas relief in District Court, and the state
moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that it was barred by the one-year
statute of limitations. A federal judge agreed, but the 1st Circuit reversed
on appeal, saying Kholi's motion qualified as an "application for state
post-conviction or other collateral review," which tolls the one-year time
Rhode Island challenged this ruling on two grounds, the first being that
Kholi's motions effectively challenged the lawfulness of the prior judgment.
But the high court said this argument reads far too much into earlier
references to "collateral review" that have come before the court.
"While our opinions have used the phrase 'collateral review' to refer to
proceedings that challenge the lawfulness of a prior judgment, we have never
suggested that the phrase may properly be used to describe only proceedings
of this type," Alito wrote.
Rhode Island's interpretation, he continued, would also greatly complicate
the work of federal habeas courts.
"Rhode Island would require those courts to separate motions for a reduced
sentence into two categories: those that challenge a sentence on legal
grounds and those that merely ask for leniency," the decision states.
This, according to the Supreme Court, would be "problematic."
Rhode Island's had also argued that the meaning of the phrase "collateral
review" should turn on whether the motion or application that triggers
review is captioned as a part of the criminal case or as a separate
One reason it offered was that the methods of filing for post-conviction or
collateral review vary among the states.
"We thus define 'collateral review' according to its ordinary meaning,"
Alito wrote. "It refers to judicial review that occurs in a proceeding
outside of the direct review process."
Justice Antonin Scalia concurred with all but a footnote of Alito's opinion.
The footnote in question discussed whether the merits of Kholi's case would
have been altered had his petition been part of a direct review. Although
not addressed in the filings or oral arguments, Alito held that the court's
disposition of the case would not change and that the habeas petition would
still be timely. Scalia disagreed.
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