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Fifth Circuit: Texas DNA Testing Motion Tolls Federal Habeas Limitations

by Matt Clarke

On November 14, 2007, the Fifth Circuit court of appeals ruled that a post-conviction DNA testing motion filed pursuant to Chapter 64 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure (C.C.P.) tolled the one-year limitations period for federal habeas corpus set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2).

Wilbert Ray Hutson, a Texas state prisoner, filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to C.C.P. Chapter 64 while his direct appeal was pending on petition for discretionary review (PDR) in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (appeals court). The PDR was denied and, after unsuccessfully attempting to file a pro se petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, Hutson filed a state application for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to C.C.P. Article 11.07, which was denied without a written order.

Meanwhile, the DNA testing motion was denied. Hutson appealed to the court of appeals which upheld the denial. Hutson filed a petition for discretionary review of the denial in the appeals court. The appeals court refused the petition.

After the trial court denied the DNA testing motion, but before he filed an appeal of the denial, Hutson filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. At the same time, Hutson filed a motion for extension of time to file the § 2254 petition, acknowledging that he was technically over the one-year limitations period of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2), but arguing that a post-conviction DNA testing motion pursuant to
C.C.P. Chapter 64 was “other collateral review” that suspends the limitations period. The district court dismissed the petition as time-barred. Hutson appealed.

The Fifth Circuit noted that a Texas state prisoner has a right to post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to Chapter 64, C.C.P., and numerous state court opinions have equated proceedings under Chapter 64, C.C.P., to state habeas corpus proceedings, referring to it as “a collateral inquiry into the validity of a conviction.” Thus, the Fifth Circuit held that a properly-filed motion for DNA testing pursuant to Chapter 64, C.C.P. qualifies as “other collateral review” under § 2254(d)(2). In this case, it did not matter that Hutson had failed to meet the preliminary requirements for DNA testing by showing that biological evidence existed which could be tested. It was his seeking review of his judgment of conviction which tolled the limitations period, not whether the judgment was actually reviewed. Therefore, the Fifth Circuit held that Hutson’s federal habeas corpus was timely filed.

The dismissal of Hutson’s federal habeas corpus petition as time-barred was reversed and the case returned to the district court for further proceedings. See: Hutson v. Quarterman, 508 F.3d 236 (5th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Hutson v. Quarterman