Khalil Kholi is not the most sympathetic person to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court. Convicted in 1993 on 10 counts of sexually molesting his two stepdaughters from the time they were toddlers until their teen years, Kholi was sentenced to two consecutive life terms by the Rhode Island Superior Court. Kholi's state court appeals were unsuccessful --" a final decision was made in February of 1996. In May of 1996, Kholi made an application for leniency, asking the state to reduce the length of his sentence. This application was denied in August of 1996. In May of 1997, Kholi filed a petition for petition for habeas corpus. More than 1 year had passed since the denial of Kholi's state court appeals.
Under the Federal Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, or AEDPA, a state prisoner has 1 year from the final court decision on his appeal to file a federal habeas corpus petition challenging his conviction. However, AEDPA has a tolling clause. That means that the time during which a prisoner has filed an appeal or other collateral review --" that time does not count towards the one-year statute of limitations.
In the case of Wall v. Kholi, the Supreme Court has to decide if Kholi's leniency application pauses, or tolls, the 1 year deadline to file a federal habeas corpus position. If the deadline is paused, Kholi can appeal his conviction at the federal level. If not, Kholi is mostly likely out of options.
The State of Rhode Island tried to persuade the court that Kholi's leniency application did not toll, or pause, the 1 year deadline to file a habeas corpus petition. Their arguments were not met with understanding. In fact, early in the proceeding, Justice Scalia declared, "I don't understand your argument AT all." Justice Sotomayor, usually a few steps ahead, said "I'm TOTALLY confused," when trying to figure out the fast-talking Assistant Attorney General of Rhode Island , Aaron Weisman.
Kholi's attorney was not having much better luck explaining the difference between a collateral and direct review. At one point, Justice Breyer seemed incredulous, violently shaking his head in confusion. Justice Scalia seemed to sum up the court's opinion, stating that rather than having federal courts try to determine whether a review of a conviction tolls AEDPA for habeas corpus purposes, federal courts should presume that all state proceedings that affect convictions and sentences toll the 1 year deadline.
Totally confusing, indeed.