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31 March 2006

Andrew E. Tauber in Adell Jones, Petitioner-Appellant v. Alan Uchtman, Respondent-Appellee, Docket No. 04-2759

On March 31, 2006, Andrew Tauber, an associate in Mayer Brown's Washington office, argued in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on behalf of Adell Jones, an Illinois state prisoner.

Mr. Jones was convicted at a bench trial of first degree murder and aggravated vehicular hijacking. He was sentenced to life in prison, which is an enhanced sentence above the otherwise applicable statutory range of 20 to 60 years.

Mr. Jones filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He asserted two constitutional claims: He alleged that he had been denied the effective assistance of counsel, and the right to a jury determination of the facts upon which his enhanced sentence was based.

The district court summarily dismissed the petition without requiring an answer from the State. In dismissing Mr. Jones' ineffective assistance claim, the district court held that his petition failed to comply with a local rule governing the form that habeas petitions must take. In dismissing Mr. Jones' jury claim, the district court held that the Supreme Court decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), did not apply to his case because the decision had been issued after Mr. Jones' trial and because Mr. Jones had in any event waived his right to a jury trial.

Having been appointed by the Seventh Circuit to represent Mr. Jones on appeal, we argued that district court had clearly erred in summarily dismissing his habeas petition. With respect to Mr. Jones' ineffective assistance claim, we argued that the district court had misinterpreted the local rule governing the form that habeas petitions must take, and had in any event impermissibly elevated form over substance. As for Mr. Jones' jury claim, we argued that Apprendi, which was decided while his direct appeal was still pending, clearly applied and that whatever waiver Mr. Jones may have made of his right to a jury trial was constitutionally defective.

In response, the State asserted that the dismissal of Mr. Jones' habeas petition should be affirmed because the petition was barred by the statute of limitations and because there was no merit to his underlying claims.

As for the merits, we argued that no resolution was yet possible given the summary dismissal and the resulting absence of a record upon which any determination of the merits could be made.

Resolution of the timeliness issue turned on whether the federal limitations was tolled during the period in which Mr. Jones, after the denial of state post-conviction application, could have sought rehearing in the Illinois Supreme Court or during the ensuing period in which he could have sought a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States. Under Seventh Circuit precedent, the limitations period continues to run throughout the rehearing and certiorari periods. In our reply, we argued that that the Seventh Circuit should-as a matter of statutory interpretation and as a matter of policy-overturn that precedent and find that Mr. Jones had filed his habeas petition in a timely manner. We also argued, in the alternative, that if the court determined that Mr. Jones' habeas petition had not been filed within the statutorily prescribed period then the case should nonetheless be remanded to the district court for determination of whether he was entitled to equitable tolling.

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