MICHAEL ALLEN HALLUM V. COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKYAnnotate this Case
RENDERED : APRIL 21, 2011
TO BE PUBLISHED
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MICHAEL ALLEN HALLUM
ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS
CASE NO . 2009-CA-001077
LOGAN CIRCUIT COURT NO. 01-CR-00061
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY
JOE B. JONES
ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS
CASE NO . 2009-CA-000545
MARION CIRCUIT COURT NO . 05-CR-00016
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY
OPINION OF THE COURT BY JUSTICE SCOTT
Today, in a consolidated appeal, we are confronted with one of the final
cases concerning an inmate's pro se documents timely placed in the prison
mail system, yet filed in the trial court after the deadline expired. We have
resolved this inequitable paradigm prospectively by amending our rules to add
the prison mailbox rule, RCr 12 .04(5) . 1
While incarcerated in different penal systems, Appellants, Joe Jones and
Michael Hallum, each filed an RCr 11 .42 motion for post-conviction relief.
Following denial of these motions by the trial court, each Appellant, pro se,2
filed a notice of appeal along with a motion to proceed in forma pauperis.
Court of Appeals dismissed both appeals due to each Appellant's respective
failure to file the motion to proceed in forma pauperis within the mandatory 30day time period . RCr 12 .04(3) ("[t]he time within which an appeal may be
taken shall be thirty (30) days after the date of entry of the judgment or order
from which it is taken.") .3
RCr 12.04(5) states: "If an inmate files a notice of appeal in a criminal case, the
notice shall be considered filed if its envelope is officially marked as having been
deposited in the institution's internal mail system on or before the last day for filing
with sufficient First Class postage prepaid ."
The Commonwealth briefly argues that Jones was represented by counsel and
cannot reap the benefits of the prison mailbox rule . This argument is meritless, as
the record clearly evinces that Jones, pro se, submitted his notice of appeal and in
forma pauperis motion : the documents are signed "Joe B . Jones, pro se" and "Joe
Jones, PRO SE."
3 As a condition precedent to having an appeal filed and docketed, an appellant must
pay the filing fee . When juxtaposing our rules of procedure, an indigent appellant
must file both the motion to proceed in forma pauperis and notice of appeal within
the 30-day period to have his appeal filed and docketed . See CR 73 .02 (1) (b) (" [i]f
Jones placed his pro se notice of appeal and motion to proceed in forma
pauperis in the prison mail system on March 15, three days prior to the 30-day
deadline.4 However, the motion was not filed, nor was the notice marked
tendered, until March 19--one day outside the 30-day deadline . Hallum placed
his pro se notice of appeal and motion to proceed in forma pauperis in the
prison mail system on November 2, three days prior to the 30-day deadline.5
However, the motion was filed and the notice marked tendered on November
13-eight days after the deadline .
We granted each Appellant's petition for discretionary review,
consolidated the cases, and now reverse the Court of Appeals' decisions .
A. The Prison Mailbox Rule
Almost seventy years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States
proclaimed that it is "beyond doubt that prisoners have a constitutional right of
access to the courts ." Bounds v. Smith, 430 U .S. 817, 821 (1977) (stating that
the Court recognized this right in Ex pane Hull, 312 U .S . 546 (1941)) . The
Court further stated that this fundamental right required "inmate access to the
courts [that] is adequate, effective, and meaningful ." Id. at 822 .
This constitutional axiom is no less applicable during the inmate's
appeal, especially when he is without the assistance of an attorney to help in
timely tendered and accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis
supported by an affidavit, a notice of appeal or cross-appeal shall be considered
timely .") .
The trial court entered the order denying Jones' motion on February 16 .
The trial court entered the order denying Hallum's motion on October 6, 2008.
filing his notice of appeal . As such, the High Court recognized the plight of pro
se prisoners constricts their ability to "take the steps other litigants can take to
monitor the processing of their notices of appeal and to ensure that the court
clerk receives and stamps their notices of appeal before the 30-day deadline."
Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S . 266, 270-71 (1988) . Prisoners lack the ability to
personally deliver the notice, mail and track the notice through the U.S. Postal
Service, or phone the court to ensure receipt . Id. -at 271 . Consequently, the
Court adopted the prison mailbox rule, which treated the pro se prisoner's
notice of appeal as "filed" when he delivered it to the authorities for forwarding
to the trial court. Id. at 270.
Numerous states have adopted versions of the prison mailbox rule, yet
Kentucky lagged behind .6 See Robertson v. Commonwealth, 177 S .W.3d 789,
793-94 (Ky. 2005) (Scott, J ., concurring in part and dissenting in part)
(collecting cases) . However, as of January 1, 2011, Kentucky joined these
states by adopting RCr 12 .04(5), which states : "[i]f an inmate files a notice of
appeal in a criminal case, the notice shall be considered filed if its envelope is
officially marked as having been deposited in the institution's internal mail
system on or before the last day for filing with sufficient First Class postage
6 Robertson was set to create a common law .version of the inmate mailbox rule, but
that measure failed to achieve a majority .
B . Retroactive Application of the Prison Mailbox Rule
Unfortunately, RCr 12 .04(5) was not in effect at the time Jones and
Hallum delivered their notices and motions to prison officials . Consequently,
Jones and Hallum will not receive the benefit of the prison mail box rule unless
we retroactively apply RCr 12 .04(5) .
We recently fashioned the framework delineating the retroactive
application of a new rule . In Leonard v. Commonwealth, Leonard, after
exhausting his direct and collateral appeals, attempted to re-open his RCr
11 .42 proceedings following a procedural rule change announced in another
decision . 279 S .W.3d 151, 154-55 (2009) (discussing the common law
procedural rule stated in Martin v. Commonwealth, 207 S .W.3d 1 (2006)) . In a
case of first impression, we created a standard of retroactivity applicable to new
rules "not of constitutional dimension." Id . at 160 . Notwithstanding our
latitude in this uncharted area, we adopted the Supreme Court of the United
States' proscription against applying new rules retroactively following final
judgment, and further clarified that in collateral attacks, the relevant
"judgment" is that which resolves the collateral attack. Id. Thus, in the
context of an RCr 11 .42 proceeding, judgment is final--preventing retroactive
application of the new rule-after the order denying the RCr 11 .42 motion is
appealed and affirmed. Id. Consequently, we concluded that Leonard could
not avail himself of the new rule announced in Martin because his RCr 11 .42
collateral attack was denied and affirmed almost seven years prior to Martin .
Id. at 160-61 .
When applying the retroactivity framework to the present case, the
temporal aspect of the retroactivity determination is clear: Appellants' cases
were pending before us when the new prison mailbox rule took effect.
Therefore, no final judgment had been entered which disposed of Appellants'
collateral attacks . Consequently, under Leonard, the new prison mailbox rule
can be retroactively applied to Hallum's and Jones' collateral attacks .
We briefly pause to note that we are cognizant that Leonard concerned
retroactive application of a common law rule, whereas the present case
retroactively applies a new rule of criminal procedure . However, this is a
distinction without a difference . The discretion to adopt common law rules is
entrusted to the judicial branch as part of its function to "say what the law is ."
Marbury v. Madison, 5 U .S . (1 Cranch) 137, 177 2 L.Ed. 60 (1803) . Similarly,
the Kentucky Constitution invests us with "the power to prescribe . . . rules of
practice and procedure for the Court of Justice ." Ky. Const. § 116 . Therefore,
in both contexts it is within the province of this Court to interpret the lawoccasionally declaring appropriate common law rules--and to implement
procedural rules .
Therefore, based on the foregoing retroactivity analysis, we reverse the
Court of Appeals' dismissal of Hallum's and Jones' appeals .
Our holding is particularly narrow: retroactive application of RCr 12.04(5) is
appropriate because Appellants' sought this precise relief, their case was not final
when the new rule was implemented, and the mail box rule is procedural .
Finally, in light of the recent rule change creating the prison mailbox
rule, we must assess the continued viability of the judicially-created equitable
tolling test. In Robertson v. Commonwealth, a factually parallel case involving
dismissal due to the untimely filing of a pro se prisoner's motion, a narrow
majority of this Court adopted the equitable tolling test-a measure applicable
to prisoners who attempt to get documents timely filed, yet fail . We considered
adopting a prison mailbox rule, but declined due to our reluctance to amend
rules without following the formal procedures . Id. at 791 . Instead, we adopted
the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit's five-factor equitable
tolling test . Under this amorphous balancing test, the trial court, before
determining whether the deadline is tolled, must consider:
(1) the petitioner's lack of notice of the filing requirement ; (2) the
petitioner's lack of constructive knowledge of the filing requirement ; (3)
diligence in pursuing one's rights; (4) absence of prejudice to the
respondent; and (5) the petitioner's reasonableness in remaining ignorant
of the legal requirement for filing his claim.
Id. at 792 (quoting Dunlap v. United States, 250 F.3d 1001, 1008-09 (6th Cir.
At the outset, we note that the application of the multi-factor equitable
tolling test is arduous, "requir[ing] that the trial court engage in a more robust
examination of the circumstances ." Id. at 796 (Roach, J ., dissenting) .
Moreover, "we have a finite number of trial judges and time to handle an ever
increasing docket of cases--and by depending on `equitable tolling' to solve the
problem, we have created another hearing with multiple briefs and evidentiary
questions prior to the trial court's thoughtful review and ruling." Id. at 795
(Scott, J ., concurring in part and dissenting in part) . Furthermore, the
adoption of equitable tolling test was a compromise provision, since there was
no prison mailbox provision in place .$
With the recent enactment of the prison mailbox rule, the burdensome
equitable tolling test is now duplicative and superfluous, with its utility
marginalized. "Equity is the correction of that wherein the law, by reason of its
universality, is deficient ." Houston v. Steele, 28 S.W . 662, 663 (Ky. 1894) . The
prison mail box rule was crafted to remedy the procedural deficiency our rules
posed to pro se inmates seeking to appeal; thus, there is no longer a need for
Robertson's equitable tolling provision . Consequently, we overrule Robertson .
We reverse the Court of Appeals' decision and remand to the trial court
for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
All sitting . All concur.
In fact, Justice Roach characterized the majority's application of equitable tolling as
"little more than an adoption of the prison mailbox rule by another name ." Id. at
796 (Roach, J ., dissenting) .
COUNSEL FOR APPELLANTS :
Brandon Neil Jewell
Assistant Public Advocate
Department of Public Advocacy
100 Fair Oaks Lane, Suite 302
Frankfort, KY 40601
COUNSEL FOR APPELAEES :
Attorney General of Kentuc
Jeffrey Allan Cross
Bryan Darwin Morrow
Criminal Appellate Division
Office of the Attorney General
1024 Capital Center Drive
Frankfort, KY 40601