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JOHNSON v. UNITED STATES, 544 U.S. ---

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JOHNSON v. UNITED STATES

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

No. 03-9685.Argued January 18, 2005--Decided April 4, 2005

Following petitioner Johnson's 1994 guilty plea on a federal drug charge, the District Court gave him an enhanced sentence as a career offender under the federal Sentencing Guidelines based on two prior Georgia drug convictions. On appeal, Johnson argued for the first time that he should not have received an enhanced sentence because one of the predicate Georgia convictions was invalid, but the Eleventh Circuit affirmed his sentence and this Court denied certiorari. Two days later, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) went into effect, imposing, among other things, a 1-year statute of limitations on motions by prisoners seeking to modify their federal sentences. The 1-year period runs from the latest of four alternative dates, the last of which is "the date on which the facts supporting the claim ... could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence," 28 U. S. C. §2255, ¶6(4). A fifth option supplied by the Courts of Appeals gave prisoners whose convictions became final before AEDPA a 1-year grace period running from that statute's effective date. On April 25, 1997, one year and three days after his pre-AEDPA federal conviction became final and just after the 1-year grace period expired, Johnson pro se filed a motion in the District Court for an extension of time to attack his federal sentence under §2255. Finding the AEDPA period expired, the court denied the motion, but without prejudice to Johnson's right to file a §2255 motion claiming any alternative limitation period under the statute. On February 6, 1998, Johnson filed a habeas petition in a Georgia state court, claiming the constitutional invalidity of his guilty pleas in seven cases, one of which was the basis for one of the convictions on which his federal sentence enhancement rested. Some three months after the state court entered an order of vacatur reversing all seven convictions, Johnson filed pro se a §2255 motion to vacate his enhanced federal sentence in light of the state-court vacatur. He claimed, in effect, that his motion was timely because the order vacating the state judgment constituted previously undiscoverable "facts supporting the claim" that triggered a renewed limitation period under §2255, ¶6(4). Although Johnson asserted that lack of education excused him from acting more promptly, and that he had filed the state petition as soon as he could get help from an inmate law clerk, the District Court denied the motion as untimely. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the state-court vacatur order was not a "fact" discovered by Johnson under the fourth paragraph of the §2255 limitations rule, but was more properly classified as a legal proposition or a court action obtained at Johnson's behest.

Held: In a case in which a prisoner collaterally attacks his federal sentence on the ground that a state conviction used to enhance that sentence has since been vacated, §2255, ¶6(4)'s 1-year limitations period begins to run when the petitioner receives notice of the order vacating the prior conviction, provided that he has sought it with due diligence in state court after entry of judgment in the federal case in which the sentence was enhanced. Pp. 6-15.


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