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Law School Case Brief

Holland v. Florida - 560 U.S. 631, 130 S. Ct. 2549 (2010)


A petitioner is entitled to equitable tolling of the one-year statute of limitations set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act only if he shows: (1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and; (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing. 


Petitioner Albert Holland was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in Florida state court. After the state supreme court affirmed on direct appeal and denied collateral relief, Holland filed a pro se federal habeas corpus petition, which was approximately five weeks late under the 1-year statute of limitations set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The record revealed that Holland's court-appointed attorney, Bradley Collins, had failed to file a timely federal petition, despite Holland's many letters emphasizing the importance of doing so. Collins apparently did not do the research necessary to find out the proper filing date despite the fact that Holland had identified the applicable legal rules for him. Collins also failed to inform Holland in a timely manner that the state supreme court had decided his case, despite Holland's many pleas for that information, and Collins failed to communicate with Holland over a period of years, despite Holland's pleas for responses to his letters. Meanwhile, Holland repeatedly requested that the state courts and the Florida bar remove Collins from his case. Based on these and other record facts, Holland asked a federal district Court to toll the AEDPA limitations period for equitable reasons. The district court refused, holding that Holland had not demonstrated the due diligence necessary to invoke equitable tolling. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed, holding regardless of diligence, Holland's case did not constitute "extraordinary circumstances." Specifically, it held that when a petitioner sought to excuse a late filing based on his attorney's unprofessional conduct, that conduct, even if grossly negligent, could not justify equitable tolling absent proof of bad faith, dishonesty, divided loyalty, mental impairment, or the like. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.


Did the appellate court properly deny Holland's petition for habeas corpus?




The Supreme Court of the United States held that a federal habeas corpus petition was subject to equitable tolling in appropriate cases and also held that the appellate court's standard for "extraordinary circumstances" was too rigid. The AEDPA statute of limitations was not jurisdictional and was subject to a presumption in favor of equitable tolling. A showing of "extraordinary circumstances" was necessary to warrant equitable tolling, and it was possible that professional misconduct that fell short of the appellate court's requirements could amount to egregious behavior. Further factual consideration was needed to determine whether counsel's failure to timely file the petition, to correctly determine the filing deadline, and to respond to Holland's many requests for information warranted equitable tolling. As such, the appellate court's judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

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