California misdemeanant’s conviction became final for AEDPA purposes at the close of the ninety-day period in which he could have sought a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeal’s denial of a certificate of transfer. Defendant was convicted of misdemeanor driving under the influence offenses. He appealed to the appellate division of the superior court (Pen. Code, § 1466), which affirmed one of the convictions. His request that the appellate division certify his case to the Court of Appeal (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1005) was denied. He then petitioned the Court of Appeal for transfer (Cal. Rules of Court, rules 8.1002, 8.1006), which was denied. He filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court, which was rejected on June 17, 2010. On August 10, 2011, he filed a habeas petition in the federal district court, which granted the State’s motion to dismiss as untimely. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed, then voted to rehear the case en banc. Held: Reversed and remanded. California’s misdemeanor review process declares misdemeanor convictions to be final immediately upon the denial of transfer by the Court of Appeal (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1018(a)) and no further appeal to the state Supreme Court is available (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.500(a)(1)). Thus, direct review of defendant’s misdemeanor conviction in California ended at this point. The conviction became final for AEDPA purposes 90 days after denial of transfer because “direct review” under AEDPA includes the period during which certiorari may be sought. The period a state collateral writ proceeding is pending tolls the limitations period, but does not delay its start. Therefore, defendant’s federal petition was untimely.
A California misdemeanant need not file a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court to fully exhaust his claims. In Larch v. Simons (9th Cir. 1995) 53 F.3d 1068 the Ninth Circuit held that California misdemeanants are required to file a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court to fully exhaust a claim. However, Larch was decided before AEDPA’s statute of limitations for federal habeas petitions was put in place. In California, challenges to misdemeanor convictions not heard on the merits by the Court of Appeal are not subject to review by the California Supreme Court. California misdemeanants should therefore not be required to file a petition in the California Supreme Court to exhaust state court remedies. Because Larch holds otherwise, it is overruled.
Although petitioner’s federal habeas petition was untimely, he was entitled to equitable tolling. Equitable tolling may be available when external forces, rather than a petitioner’s lack of diligence, account for the failure to file a timely claim. A court will toll AEDPA’s statute in limitations in rare cases where a petitioner relies on a legally erroneous holding in determining when to file a habeas petition. Here, McMonagle relied on Larch when filing his federal habeas petition. Under the circumstances of this cases, he was entitled to equitable tolling of AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations.