Tuesday, May 09, 2006

COA required to appeal denial of Rule 4(a)(6) motion in a § 2255 proceeding

Huh? Simply put, the Third Circuit, in United States v. Rinaldi, No. 04-2260 (3d Cir. May 8, 2006) rejected a habeas petitioner’s "convoluted" procedural effort to attack his sentence. After an earlier unsuccessful appeal, the petitioner, Rinaldi, filed a § 2255 habeas motion, which the district court denied on the merits. After the 3rd Cir. denied Rinaldi’s request for a certificate of appealability ("COA"), Rinaldi sought to reopen his case in the district court under FRCP 60(b). The district court denied his motion. Rinaldi then sought reconsideration under Rule 59(e), which the district court also rejected. The time to appeal the denial of his Rule 59(e) motion then expired, but Rinaldi attempted to reopen the time to file an appeal under FRAP 4(a)(6). The district court again denied Rinaldi’s request. Rinaldi appealed to the 3rd Cir.

Rinaldi argues that he does not need a COA now to appeal the district court’s Rule 4(a)(6) decision because the denial was not a final order under § 2253, the statute that requires a COA to appeal a § 2255 denial. The Third Circuit disagreed, stating, "we will grant a COA to challenge the denial of a Rule 4(a)(6) motion only if the § 2255 movant shows: (1) that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the Rule 4(a)(6) motion; and (2) that jurists of reason would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims in the underlying order debatable or wrong."

The Court jumped straight to step 2 of this test, holding that the district court’s assessment of Rinaldi’s constitutional claims were not debatable or wrong. One of Rinaldi’s arguments was that he, as opposed to his court-appointed counsel, should have been permitted to cross examine his trial counsel at the evidentiary hearing exploring ineffective assistance of counsel.

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