Argued: February 5, 2018
Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case Nos. 198022020, 23
Barbera, C.J., Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten Getty, JJ.
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.
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
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.
and Procedural History
The Underlying Conviction
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).
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).
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.
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
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.
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). 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). 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.
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
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.
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,
The Parties' Contentions
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