LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Northern Division
DOCKET NO.: 12-126
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 596 US (2013)
GRANTED: Oct 29, 2012
ARGUED: Feb 25, 2013
DECIDED: May 28, 2013
Chad A. Readler – for the respondent
John J. Bursch – Michigan Solicitor General, for the petitioner
Facts of the case
Floyd Perkins was convicted for the murder of Rodney Henderson in Michigan state court. The conviction became final on May 5, 1997 and under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), Perkins should have filed a writ of habeas corpus by May 5, 1998, but he did not file until July 13, 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. Perkins claimed problems with the sufficiency of evidence, jury instruction, trial procedure, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel. The magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the petition as barred by the AEDPA statute of limitations. Perkins objected, arguing that the “new evidence” provision, which extends the statute of limitations to one year from when the “factual predicate of the claim could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence”, applied.
In support of his objection, Perkins produced three previously unpresented affidavits that alluded to his innocence. The affidavits were signed in 1997, 1999 and 2002, so the district court denied the writ, holding that the ADEPA statute of limitations extension expired in 2003, one year after the last affidavit was signed. Perkins then asked the court to extend the statute of limitations because he was actually innocent of the crime. The district court rejected this argument, holding that the “new” evidence was not the type needed to pursue an actual innocence claim, and even if it were, Perkins did not pursue his claims with reasonable diligence. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that although the U.S. Supreme Court has held that tolling the statute of limitations requires parties to be reasonably diligent in pursuit of their claims, no court has analyzed whether actual innocence claims must be pursued in the same way.
1. Must an accused claiming actual innocence prove that extraordinary circumstances prevented the timely filing of his habeas petition?
2. If so, must an accused pursue an actual innocence claim with the same reasonable diligence required to toll the statute of limitations for other habeas petition claims?
Media for McQuiggin v. Perkins
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 28, 2013 in McQuiggin v. Perkins
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Ginsburg has our opinion this morning, case 12-126, McQuiggin versus Perkins.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
This case involves what we have called a gateway for a federal habeas corpus petitioner to gain adjudication of an alleged constitutional error.
An edifying, I hope, illustration.
Suppose a person asserts that at his trial, he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, but there is a procedural impediment to making that claim.
For example, the prisoner failed to raise it in an earlier petition.
If the prisoner can show that he is actually innocent of the crime for which he has been convicted, that showing will serve as a gateway enabling him to present the otherwise barred claim of constitutional error.
In 1993, Floyd Perkins was charged with murdering his friend, Rodney Henderson.
At trial, Perkins’ principal defense was that the prosecution’s key witness, Damarr Jones, committed the murder while Perkins himself took no part in it.
A Michigan jury convicted Perkins and his conviction became final in May 1997.
Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, AEDPA, a state prisoner has one year from the date on which his conviction became final to petition for habeas corpus relief in federal court.
If the petition is based on new evidence, the prisoner must file within one year of the date on which the new evidence could have been discovered had the prisoner acted diligently.
Perkins first petitioned for federal habeas relief in June 2008, more than 11 years after his conviction became final.
He asserted that his delay should not bar relief because he is in fact innocent of Henderson’s murder.
In support of his innocence claim, Perkins submitted three affidavits, each pointing to Jones as the killer.
The District Court dismissed his petition as untimely.
In the alternative, the District Court ruled that Perkins did not meet the strict standard by which pleas of actual innocence are measured.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that if Perkins could show actual innocence, his ineffective assistance of counsel claim should be treated as if it had been filed on time.
We granted review to resolve a circuit conflict on this question. “Can AEDPAs statute of limitations be overcome by a convincing showing of actual innocence?”
Our answer is a qualified yes.
This Court has several times ruled that a convincing claim of actual innocence may supercede a threshold barrier to relief.
This departure from strict application of procedural requirements has been called “the fundamental miscarriage of justice exception”.
The exception survived AEDPAs passage, we have held, and in equity we hold today, it can apply to AEDPAs time limitations.
We part ways with the Sixth Circuit in one respect.
That Court indicated incorrectly in our judgment that a prisoner’s failure to exercise diligence is immaterial to the miscarriage of justice exception.
Unjustifiable delay on the petitioner’s part, although not an absolute barrier to relief, thus, bear on the determination where the innocence has been reliably shown.
Taking account of an unexplained delay in this way in judging the merits of the actual innocence claim avoids unfairness to the state whose witnesses may have become unavailable or may lack a clear memory of what transpired.
At the same time, the evaluation we instruct reduces the risk that innocent persons will linger in prison as a result of constitutional errors in their prosecutions.
Successful actual-innocence gateway claims, we caution, are rare as the standard for relief is demanding.
The gateway should open only when in light of all the evidence, old and new, no reasonable juror would have found the petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
We return the case for the Six Circuit’s determination whether Perkins’ claim fits that bill.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion joined in fold by the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas and in principle part by Justice Alito.