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Hackney v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

May 9, 2018


          Argued: February 5, 2018

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case Nos. 198022020, 23

          Barbera, C.J., Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten Getty, JJ.


          Barbera, C.J.

         For many of us, the rapid advancement of technology has relegated the ordinary postal system-colloquially referred to as "snail mail"-to an option of last resort. For others, it is not entirely a thing of the past. The physical mail delivery system provides an important avenue of access to the courts for those who do not or cannot, for one reason or another, use electronic mail, electronic filing systems, or the Internet at large.

         In this case, Thoyt Hackney, Petitioner here and unrepresented at the time of the events in question, testified that he delivered a petition for post-conviction relief to prison authorities three days before a statutory ten-year filing deadline. Two days later, prison authorities mailed the petition to the circuit court. It arrived and was date-stamped by the clerk one day after the deadline. The circuit court rejected the petition as untimely, finding that the relevant rule of procedure, Maryland Rule 1-322, required that the petition be "filed" with-i.e., received by-the Clerk of the Circuit Court prior to the deadline. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed.

         Petitioner urges this Court to adopt the "prison mailbox rule, " under which the papers or pleadings of unrepresented, incarcerated litigants are deemed to be "filed" when formally delivered to prison authorities for mailing to the circuit court. For the reasons that follow, we adopt the prison mailbox rule in the post-conviction context and apply it to the case at bar. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals with the direction that it remand the matter to the circuit court for that court to accept the petition as timely filed and proceed to consider the merits of the petition.


         Facts and Procedural History

         A. The Underlying Conviction

         In 1998, Petitioner was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City of two counts each of second-degree murder; use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence; and wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun. He was sentenced to a total term of sixty years' imprisonment. The Court of Special Appeals issued an unreported opinion affirming Petitioner's convictions and sentences. Hackney & Thompson v. State, No. 1676, Sept. Term, 1998 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. June 16, 1999).

         B. Post-Conviction Proceedings

         Nearly ten years later, Petitioner, incarcerated and proceeding without the assistance of counsel, endeavored to file a post-conviction petition in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Such petitions are governed by the Maryland Uniform Postconviction Procedure Act, codified at Title 7 of the Criminal Procedure Article ("CP") of the Maryland Code. Absent extraordinary cause, post-conviction petitions are subject to a ten-year statute of limitations, CP § 7-103(b), and petitions are adjudged timely according to the dictates of Maryland Rule 1-322(a).

         Petitioner submitted to the prison mailroom an envelope containing his petition and a certificate of service to the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office bearing the date of October 20, 2008. There are two date stamps on the envelope. One stamp is on the back and appears to reflect that, on October 22, 2008, the mailroom date-stamped the envelope containing the petition and certificate of service. The other stamp, also dated October 22, 2008, is on the front of the envelope and appears to be the postmark, evidencing that prison authorities forwarded the envelope to the United States Post Office on that date. The Clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City received and docketed the petition on October 24, 2008, one day after the statute of limitations had expired. On October 28, 2008, the Baltimore City State's Attorney filed a motion to dismiss the petition or, alternatively, a response to it. The motion to dismiss did not raise the statute of limitations issue.

         Thereafter, counsel from the Public Defender's office entered an appearance and filed two supplemental petitions on Petitioner's behalf. In a footnote in the first supplemental petition, Petitioner's counsel argued that Petitioner's original petition had been timely filed. On September 10, 2010, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City held a hearing on the post-conviction petition. The court heard abbreviated argument on the statute of limitations issue, accepted into evidence various documents offered by the Public Defender, and heard testimony from Petitioner regarding dates relevant to the statute of limitations. Specifically, Petitioner testified that on October 20, 2008, he signed a certificate of service at the end of his petition, put it in an envelope with postage affixed, and mailed it.

         The circuit court decided to reserve judgment on both the statute of limitations issue and the merits of the petition. For reasons not apparent in the record, the court delayed for five years before issuing an order dated November 19, 2015, dismissing Petitioner's petition as untimely under CP § 7-103(b) because it was "filed" on October 24, 2008, one day after the deadline. Although the court made no specific finding, it was-and remains- undisputed that Petitioner delivered his petition to prison authorities no later than October 22, 2008.

         C. The Appeal

         Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Court of Special Appeals. The intermediate appellate court granted the application, transferred the case to the regular appeals docket, and in an unreported opinion affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. Hackney v. State, No. 2513, Sept. Term, 2015 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. July 18, 2017). The Court of Special Appeals began by analyzing the relevant statute and rule. At the time Petitioner filed his petition, CP § 7-103(b)(1) provided the following:

Unless extraordinary cause is shown, in a case in which a sentence of death has not been imposed, a petition under this subtitle may not be filed more than 10 years after the sentence was imposed.

CP § 7-103(b)(1) (2001).[1] Maryland Rule 1-322(a) governs the filing of pleadings and other papers in circuit court. When Petitioner filed his petition, Rule 1-322(a) provided, in relevant part:

(a) Generally. The filing of pleadings and other papers with the court as required by these rules shall be made by filing them with the clerk of the court, except that a judge of that court may accept the filing, in which event the judge shall note on the papers the filing date and forthwith transmit them to the office of the clerk.

Md. Rule 1-322(a) (2008).[2] The Court of Special Appeals then reviewed Molé v. Jutton, a case involving claims for negligence and battery. The plaintiff, who did not prevail on one of her claims in the circuit court, sought appellate review on that issue and mailed a notice of appeal to the clerk's post office box rather than directly to the courthouse. 381 Md. 27 (2004). In that context, we had this to say about Rule 1-322(a):

A pleading or paper is filed by actual delivery to the clerk. This may be accomplished in person or by mail. However, the date of filing is the date the clerk receives the pleading, not the date when the pleading was mailed. Filing therefore differs from service of a pleading or paper by mail, which is, in fact, complete upon mailing[.]

Molé, 381 Md. at 34 (emphasis added) (quoting Paul V. Niemeyer & Linda M. Schuett, Maryland Rules Commentary 35 (2d ed. 1984)). The Molé Court deemed the clerk to have received the appellant's notice of appeal when it arrived at the post office box because the clerk's office had set up the post office box for its own convenience. Id. at 38.

         The Court of Special Appeals held that Petitioner's petition for post-conviction relief was untimely under Rule 1-322(a) and Molé because it was received by the clerk one day after the expiration of the statute of limitations set forth in CP § 7-103(b). The court further held that Petitioner failed to show "extraordinary cause" under the statute. The court found nothing extraordinary about the filing of a petition by an unrepresented prisoner. Nor did the court lend any weight to Petitioner's arguments that his constitutional rights were violated because, first, those arguments did not appear to be preserved and, second, even if they were, the statute "provide[s] an extremely long time to file a petition" and has an extraordinary cause "safety valve."

         Finally, the Court of Special Appeals declined Petitioner's invitation to adopt the prison mailbox rule. The court reasoned that it lacked the authority to do so, concluding that this Court's decision in Molé controls the date of filing. We issued a writ of certiorari to determine whether the prison mailbox rule should be the law in Maryland.


         Standard of Review

         On appeal, we review de novo the interpretation and application of Maryland statutory and case law. Wallace v. State, 452 Md. 558, 573 (2017); Collins v. State, 383 Md. 684, 688 (2004). As this case turns on the interpretation of the Uniform Postconviction Procedure Act and the Maryland Rule that controls filing under that statute, we "determine whether the lower court's conclusions are legally correct." Gray v. State, 388 Md. 366, 375 (2005) (quoting Nesbit v. Gov't Emps. Ins. Co., 382 Md. 65, 72 (2004)). We interpret the Maryland Rules under the same standard. Id. (citing Davis v. Slater, 383 Md. 599, 604 (2004)).



         A. The Parties' Contentions

         Petitioner first urges this Court to adopt the prison mailbox rule as set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988). The Supreme Court recognized in Houston that the "situation of prisoners seeking to appeal without the aid of counsel is unique." Id. at 270. The Court held that under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, an unrepresented prisoner is deemed to have filed his or her petition when the prisoner delivers it to prison authorities to be mailed to the court. Id. at 276. Petitioner acknowledges that Houston concerned the timeliness of an appeal from the dismissal of a petition for writ of habeas corpus, but he argues that the statute and rule at issue here-CP § 7-103 and Maryland Rule 1-322-are sufficiently parallel to those considered in Houston. Petitioner asserts that this Court should have little trouble embracing the Supreme Court's reasoning and applying it to this case. Petitioner notes that, in the wake of Houston, the Supreme ...

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