Monday, June 03, 2013

Sixth Circuit remand could open "innocence" door in murder cases

The Columbus Dispatch last Thursday reported the “ Supreme Court’s handing down what could be a significant decision opening the door, at least slightly, in murder cases where defendants claim they are innocent and want the court to consider new evidence submitted well after the original trial.”

The case was that of McQuiggin v. Perkins, 12-126, the 5-4 ruling being decided May 28th, and being penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concluding that there should be a "gateway," albeit narrow, though which offenders can pass if they are able to make a credible case for their innocence regardless of the passage of a deadline, according to the Dispatch’s article. Justice Scalia dissented with Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts joining and Alito joining in parts.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) gives a state prisoner one year to file a federal habeas petition, starting from ‘the date on which the judgment became final.”28 U. S. C. §2244(d)(1)(A). But if the petition alleges newly discovered evidence, the filing deadline is one year from “the date on whichthe factual predicate of the claim . . . could have been discovered through . . . due diligence.” §2244(d)(1)(D)

“Actual innocence, if proved,” the Court said, “serves as a gateway through which a petitioner may pass whether the impediment is a procedural bar, as it was in Schlup v. Delo, 513 U. S. 298, and House v. Bell, 547 U. S. 518, or expiration of the AEDPA statute of limitations, as in this case.”

“The Court has not resolved whether a prisoner may be entitled to habeas corpus relief based on a freestanding actual-innocence claim, Herrera v. Collins, 506 U. S. 390, 404–405, but it has recognized that a prisoner “otherwise subject to defenses of abusive or successive use of the writ may have the federal constitutional claim considered on the merits if he makes a proper showing of actual innocence,” id., at 404.

“The Court has applied this ‘fundamental miscarriage of justice exception” to overcome various procedural defaults, including, as most relevant here, failure to observe state procedural rules, such as filing deadlines. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722, 750. The exception, the Court’s decisions bear out, survived AEDPA’s passage. See, e.g., Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U. S. 538, 558; House, 547 U. S., at 537–538. These decisions “see[k] to balance the societal interests in finality, comity, and conservation of scarce judicial resources with the individual interest in justice that arises in the extraordinary case.” Schlup, 513 U. S., at 324. Sensitivity to the injustice of incarcerating an innocent individual should not abate when the impediment is AEDPA’s statute of limitations.

Judgment of the Sixth Circuit was vacated and the case remanded.

Sixth Circuit's holding
Perkins’ Petition for a writ of certiorari

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