“Statutory one-year deadline for inmates to file a habeas petition to challenge their conviction can be overlooked if they are attempting to present new evidence that could prove their innocence”
U.S. Supreme Court decision in Flint man’s case could have far-reaching impact
“…statutory one-year deadline for inmates to file a habeas petition to challenge their conviction can be overlooked if they are attempting to present new evidence that could prove their innocence”
By Gary Ridley |
June 08, 2013 at 10:07 AM
FLINT, MI — A Flint man’s legal fight that traveled all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court may help open doors for people convicted of crimes who have found new evidence proving their innocence.
The nation’s highest court ruled last week that a statutory one-year deadline for inmates to file a habeas petition to challenge their conviction can be overlooked if they are attempting to present new evidence that could prove their innocence.
The ruling was issued May 28 after Floyd Gene Perkins challenged his 1993 murder conviction.
Perkins was convicted of killing Rodney Henderson following a party in March 1993. Henderson was discovered stabbed to death on a wooded trail in Flint.
A prosecution witness testified that Perkins killed Henderson on his own while he looked on. Other witnesses testified that Perkins had admitted to committing the crime.
However, Perkins testified during the trial that it was actually the witness who killed Henderson and that Perkins later saw the witness standing under a street light with blood on his pants, shoes and plaid coat the night of Henderson’s murder.
Perkins claims that three affidavits, signed in 1997, 1999 and 2002 from witnesses who came forward after his conviction, prove that he did not kill Henderson and that the other man was the actual killer. This new evidence proving his innocence, Perkins contended, should be grounds for a new trial.
A federal district court denied Perkins’ argument for a new trial because he waited until 2008 to ask a federal judge to overturn his conviction, well outside the one-year deadline to seek relief after obtaining new evidence. However, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March 2012 that Perkins should be given his day in court because the law is not clear on if the one-year deadline applies to those whose new evidence proves actual innocence.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take the case when Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette challenged the appeals court’s ruling.
Alan Gershel, a professor at Lansing-based Cooley Law School, said the Supreme Court’s decision, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was important and will help open the doors to some inmates who are trying to challenge their convictions.
However, the Supreme Court’s ruling is tailored in such a way that it will still impose barriers to those seeking a habeas hearing, Gershel said.
Ginsburg’s opinion, which was supported by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, states that the new evidence would have to show that “it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted (the petitioner).”
Gershel said courts will still be able to take the timing of the petition into account to ensure that inmates aren’t excessively delaying their claim in an effort to affect their case — for example, waiting for the death of an elderly witness.
Justice Antonin Scalia authored a scathing dissenting opinion in the case, arguing that the court has overstepped its authority by overriding a timing barrier that is written into a statute approved by Congress.
“Where Congress has erected a constitutionally valid barrier to habeas relief, a court cannot decline to give it effect,” Scalia wrote.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas joined with Scalia in his dissent.
“The Court simply ignores basic legal principles where they pose an obstacle to its policy-driven, free-form improvisation,” Scalia wrote, additionally referring to the court’s decision as a “statutory-construction blooper reel.”
Perkins’ case has been referred back to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for further proceedings in light of the court’s new interpretation.
Despite the remand, Gershel said the Supreme Court’s opinion does not necessarily give validity to Perkins’ new evidence.
In fact, Ginsburg in her ruling raised doubt that Perkins’ new evidence would be able to meet the threshold for review.
“…The proffered evidence, even if ‘new,’ was hardly adequate to show that, had it been presented at trial, no reasonable juror would have convicted Perkins,” Ginsburg wrote