28 May 2013

Law in Plain English: McQuiggan v. Perkins

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

McQuiggin v. Perkins

Perkins was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He lost on direct appeal. He then raised several post-conviction claims on collateral attack in state court, including ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC). Perkins lost again. He then filed a federal habeas petition raising the same claims. Although the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) provided a one-year statute of limitations claim, Perkins alleged a claim of actual innocence, which would overcome the statute of limitations and allow the court to hear the case (an extenstion of the courts' pre-AEDPA "miscarriage of justice" exception). ruling that Perkins had not acted with reasonable diligence. Then, the Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that diligence was not a prerequisite to the exception. The question before the Court was whether, under AEDPA, there is an actual-innocence exception to the requirement that a petitioner show an extraordinary circumstance that “prevented timely filing” of a habeas petition, and if so, whether there is an additional actual-innocence exception to the requirement that a petitioner demonstrate that “he has been pursuing his rights diligently.” In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that actual innocence, if proved, serves as a gateway through which a petitioner may pass if the expiration of the AEDPA statute of limitations is a procedural bar. As a result, Perkins's petition can go forward. The practical impact of this decision is to expand the exception to allow habeas petitioners to have their claims heard by the courts even when they are otherwise barred by statute.
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