By: Agnieszka Chiapperini, Articles Solicitation Editor, J.D. Candidate, May 2018, St. Thomas University School of Law.

Abstract

In June of 2015, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of a federal statute as unconstitutional. For the next ten months, District Courts all over the country came to inconsistent conclusions regarding the new decision’s retroactive application.  As a result, in April of 2016, the Supreme Court held that the struck-down statute can, in fact, be applied retroactively.  Federal prisoners were now able to file their habeas corpus petitions seeking to have their sentences or convictions reviewed based on the availability of this new rule.  Although Congress gave federal prisoners a one-year statute of limitations to file their petitions, these Americans had to act quickly and file their petitions within only two months to meet the June 2016 filing deadline.  Not all federal prisoners are this lucky, however.  Due to the Supreme Court’s complex application of retroactivity and its flawed interpretation of the one-year statute of limitations, many, if not most, federal prisoners’ filing deadlines pass long before their petitions ripen.

This Comment discusses the conflicting policies that surround the availability of habeas corpus relief to federal prisoners.  This Comment argues that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the retroactivity requirement within the statute of limitations creates a right without a remedy to successive habeas corpus petitioners.   Further, this Comment proposes a solution to this retroactivity problem by calling to Congress to amend the statute in a way that will provide the relief it intended, or, in the alternative, by asking the Supreme Court to allow successive habeas corpus petitions to be equitably tolled until the Supreme Court expressly decides whether a new rule of law is applicable retroactively to cases on collateral review.   This conclusion rests on evidence of legislative intent and deficiency in policy arguments that support finality of convictions over fairness in the justice system.