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McNeil v. State

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

August 28, 2018



          Richard G. Kopf, Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on Petitioner Jamaal Andre McNeil's (“McNeil”) Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (filing no. 1) brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.[1] After initial review under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, I will dismiss the petition without prejudice.

         McNeil alleges he was convicted of possession of a controlled substance (crack) with intent to deliver on May 1, 2017, in the Douglas County District Court of Nebraska, No. CR16-3742. McNeil's state case records, available to this court online, [2] show that McNeil filed an appeal on May 3, 2017, after he was convicted but prior to his sentencing, which was dismissed by the Nebraska Court of Appeals for lack of jurisdiction on June 19, 2017, and the mandate was issued on July 28, 2017. On August 23, 2017, the state district court sentenced McNeil to ten to fifteen years' imprisonment. McNeil did not file a direct appeal after he was sentenced. Recently, however, on August 21, 2018, McNeil filed a motion for postconviction relief and the status of his state criminal case is listed as “Re-opened as of 08/21/2018.”

         As set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254:

(b)(1) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that-
(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; or
(B) (i) there is an absence of available State corrective process; or
(ii) circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant. . . .
(c) An applicant shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State, within the meaning of this section, if he has the right under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented.

         Under Nebraska law, a prisoner may file a postconviction relief motion seeking to vacate or set aside a sentence on constitutional grounds within one year of “[t]he date the judgment of conviction became final by the conclusion of a direct appeal or the expiration of the time for filing a direct appeal.” Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-3001. McNeil's state court records clearly establish that he did not pursue any state postconviction proceedings before filing his habeas case in this forum. Exhaustion of available state postconviction relief is a necessary prerequisite to seeking federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Akins v. Kenney, 410 F.3d 451, 454 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999)). As explained in Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 520 (1982):

[O]ur interpretation of §§ 2254(b), (c) provides a simple and clear instruction to potential litigants: before you bring any claims to federal court, be sure that you first have taken each one to state court. Just as pro se petitioners have managed to use the federal habeas machinery, so too should they be able to master this straightforward exhaustion requirement.

         Since McNeil did not exhaust his available state court remedies before filing this federal habeas action, his petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is subject to sua sponte dismissal by this court. Rose, 455 U.S. at 520; Akins, 410 F.3d at 455.

         This court has the discretion to stay rather than dismiss a petitioner's habeas claim pending exhaustion of state postconviction proceedings. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 276 (2005). However, a federal stay should be available in only limited circumstances. “Because granting a stay effectively excuses a petitioner's failure to present his claims first to the state courts, stay and abeyance is only appropriate when the district court determines there was good cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state court.” Id. at 277. In determining whether a stay is appropriate, the court may consider whether access to federal habeas review will be prejudiced if the case is dismissed, including whether the petitioner's federal habeas claims will be time-barred because the statute of limitations set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) expired while the habeas case was pending in federal court. See Akins, 410 F.3d at 455-56. See also Lawrence v. Florida, 549 U.S. 327, 331 (2007) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)) (“The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 110 Stat. 1214, sets a one-year statute of limitations for seeking federal habeas corpus relief from a state-court judgment.”). Although the time during which a properly filed application for state postconviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending is not counted toward the AEDPA statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2), the filing of a petition for habeas corpus in federal court does not toll the AEDPA statute of limitations. Rhines, 544 U.S. at 274-75.

         McNeil's conviction and sentence became final on September 22, 2017, which was 30 days after the state district court entered its sentencing order (i.e., “the expiration of the time for seeking [direct] review”). See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A); see also Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-1912 (stating appeal must be filed “within thirty days after the entry of such judgment”). The one-year AEDPA statute of limitations has not expired. Moreover, McNeil is currently pursuing his state postconviction motion. Thus, dismissing this federal petition for habeas relief will not prejudice McNeil's ability to timely pursue his state postconviction motion and, upon exhaustion of that available remedy, file a timely petition for federal habeas review as appropriate.[3] Therefore, the circumstances presented in this case do not justify staying this federal ...

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