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Wisconsin Prisoner's Pro-Se AEDPA Action Dismissed, Reversed and Remanded

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin's denial of a pro-se application for a writ of habeas corpus by prisoner Stanley E. Martin, Jr., was reversed and remanded by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals based upon "an improper interpretation of the relevant sections of the Antiterrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. Sec 2244(d)(1)."

The State of Wisconsin in 1996 had petitioned a state court to have Martin civilly committed under Wis. Sta. Sec.980.06, for any person (1) "has been convicted of a sexually violent offense"; and (2) "is dangerous because he or she suffers from a mental disorder that makes it likely that the person will engage in one or more acts of sexual violence." The statute provides that the person be held "until such time as the person is no longer a sexually violent person," that they must be reexamined at least once a year, and the committed person may petition for discharge at any time.

After three unsuccessful challenges in state and federal court to this commitment, Martin filed his fourth, alleging that the state's reliance upon two earlier convictions was unfounded. The state court denied this petition in 2008, and the habeas action followed, arguing the "State's reliance on his earlier convictions violated his plea agreements and his constitutional rights." The district court, in a sua sponte order, suggested his petition was untimely based upon AEDPA's one-year statute of limitations based upon his original commitment in 1996. Martin then amended his petition, and argued on appeal "that the applicable statue of limitations period actually began to run on the date of the most recent order continuing his commitment.

AEDPA, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2244(d)(1), provides for a one-year statute of limitations for an application brought by "a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court." The parties disputed which judgment Martin is challenging. In the appellate decision, "the district court accepted the parties' contention constitutes a new judgment for purposes of AEDPA, and therefore starts a new statute of limitations period. We agree...there is nothing in the language of the statute that leads us to believe he is challenging any judgment other than the one which he claims to be challenging...the State has preserved (the question) by making its decision to continue Martin's commitment on those same grounds now..."

The Appellate Court noted that the Eighth Circuit, in Revels v. Sanders, 519 F.3d 734 (8th Cir. 2008), had held "that the AEDPA statute of limitations began to run on the date that the State denied his application, rather than on the date of his original conviction and commitment."

In conclusion, the Court held: "Given our duty to interpret pleadings liberally, especially those filed by pro se litigants, see, e.g. Perruquet v. Bailey, 390 F.3d 505, 512 (7th Cir.2004), we accept Martin's contention that he is in fact challenging the State's most recent decision. Thus, his petition is not barred by the one-year statute of limitations in Sec.2244(d)(1), and it was error for the district court to dismiss it on that basis." See: Martin v. Bartow, 628 F.3d 871 (7th Cir. 2010).

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Related legal case

Martin v. Bartow