United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
J. MICHELLE CHILDS, District Judge.
This death penalty habeas corpus matter is before the court on Petitioner's Motion for Stay and Appointment of Counsel, and also on his Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis, both filed on June 26, 2014. (ECF Nos. 1, 2.) Respondent submitted a Response to the Motion for Stay and Appointment of Counsel on July 14, 2014. (ECF No. 8.) Petitioner filed a Reply to the Response on July 23, 2014. (ECF No. 14.)
1. MOTION FOR LEAVE TO PROCEED in forma pauperis
Petitioner requests to proceed without prepaying the filing fee by filing a completed and signed Form AO 240, which is construed as a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 2.) Based on a review of the motion, Petitioner's request to proceed in forma pauperis is
2. MOTION TO STAY
Petitioner's execution date has not yet been set, but he states that it will be an "imminent execution." (ECF No. 1 at 1, 5.) Petitioner asks the court to enter a stay of execution to provide his counsel sufficient time to prepare, submit, and prosecute on his behalf a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1 at 1.) Petitioner does not request a specific length of time for the requested stay. Thus, as of this date it appears that Petitioner requests that the court stay his imminent, yet unscheduled, execution.
Respondent asserts that the Supreme Court of South Carolina likely will not issue an execution notice in light of the Motion for Stay of Execution filed before this court. (ECF No. 8 at 1& n.1.) Thus, Respondent asserts that Petitioner is essentially seeking a stay of issuance of the execution notice. ( Id. at 19.) Respondent does not oppose a stay in this matter, but he asserts that the stay should be limited at this time to ninety (90) days as provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(3). (ECF No. 8 at 20.) Respondent also asserts that "this Court should order the petition be filed within that time and allow Petitioner additional time to seek a further stay under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. [§] 2251(a)(1)." (ECF No. 8 at 21.) Notably, Respondent agrees with Petitioner that only seventeen (17) days of the one-year limitations period under 28 U.S.C. § 2244 for filing habeas corpus petitions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 lapsed between his state conviction becoming final and the filing of his initial PCR action. ( Id. at 19; see ECF No. 1 at 2.) Petitioner replies with an objection to Respondent's request that the court require his habeas petition to be filed within ninety (90) days, contending that Petitioner has a considerably longer period of time remaining on his statute of limitations period, that there is no requirement for such a limited filing period under 28 U.S.C. § 2251, and that any such limit on his filing period is contrary to this court's practice in previous death-penalty related cases. (ECF No. 14 at 1-3.)
A stay of execution for a sentence of death imposed by a court of a state is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(1) and (a)(3). See Gray v. Kelly, 131 S.Ct. 2956 (2011) (citing 28 U.S.C.§ 2251(a)(3)); McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849 (1994); Powell v. Kelly, 492 F.Supp.2d 552, 556-57 (E.D. Va. 2007) (applying 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(3)); Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., Federal Postconviction Remedies Handbook § 7:20 (May 2013) (explaining that the Patriot Act amended 28 U.S.C. § 2251 to expressly ratify the holding in McFarland ). "The federal habeas corpus statute grants any federal judge before whom a habeas corpus proceeding is pending ' power to stay a state-court action for any matter involved in the habeas corpus proceeding.'" McFarland, 512 U.S. at 857 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2251) (emphasis in original). When a capital defendant invokes his or her right to counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 2251, a federal court has jurisdiction to issue a stay of execution. See 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(3); McFarland, 512 U.S. at 858 ("once a capital defendant invokes his right to appointed counsel, a federal court also has jurisdiction under § 2251 to enter a stay of execution"). As mentioned previously and discussed in more detail below, Petitioner also requests appointment of Teresa L. Norris and Elizabeth Franklin-Best of Columbia, South Carolina to represent him in the preparation and filing of a timely petition for habeas relief. Thus, Petitioner has invoked his right to appointed counsel and, therefore, this "federal court also has jurisdiction under § 2251 to enter a stay of execution." McFarland, 512 U.S. at 858; see also 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(3).
The court finds that Petitioner should be granted a stay of execution for ninety (90) days from the date counsel is appointed as prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(3). Additionally, prior to the expiration of the ninety (90) day stay of execution, Petitioner should seek a longer stay of execution pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(1), if needed, in order to submit his habeas petition within his § 2244 limitations period, to allow Respondent to file a response to his submission, and to allow the court to rule on the merits of the petition. See Lonchar v. Thomas, 517 U.S. 314, 320 (1996) ("If the district court cannot dismiss the petition on the merits before the scheduled execution, it is obligated to address the merits and must issue a stay to prevent the case from becoming moot.").
3. MOTION TO APPOINT COUNSEL
Petitioner seeks appointment of Teresa L. Norris and Elizabeth Franklin-Best, both of Columbia, South Carolina, as counsel pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3599 prior to the filing of a habeas petition and in order to pursue federal habeas corpus remedies and because he is financially unable to obtain adequate representation. (ECF No. 1 at 2, 4-6; ECF No. 2.) Both Ms. Norris and Ms. Franklin-Best are currently members of the court's Criminal Justice Act ("CJA") Death Penalty panel of attorneys. Ms. Franklin-Best is a member of the CJA Death Penalty panel of attorneys designated lead counsel, and Ms. Norris is currently a member of CJA Death Penalty panel of attorneys designated second chair.
A. Qualifications of Counsel
The qualifications for appointed counsel in capital cases are governed by 18 U.S.C. § 3599 and the Plan of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina for Implementing the Criminal Justice Act. See In re Amendments to the Plan of the U.S. Dist. Ct. for the Dist. of S.C. for Implementing the Criminal Justice Act, No. 3:10-mc-5005-CIV (D.S.C. May 5, 2010) ("CJA Plan"). The statutory authority for the federal courts to appoint legal counsel for indigent, ...