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McQuiggin v. Perkins - 569 U.S. 383, 133 S. Ct. 1924 (2013)

Rule:

Actual innocence, if proved, serves as a gateway through which a petitioner may pass whether the impediment is a procedural bar or expiration of the statute of limitations. However, tenable actual-innocence gateway pleas are rare, and a petitioner does not meet the threshold requirement unless he persuades a district court that, in light of the new evidence, no juror, acting reasonably, would have voted to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In making an assessment of the kind the United States Supreme Court envisioned in Schlup v. Delo, the timing of the petition is a factor bearing on the reliability of the evidence purporting to show actual innocence.

Facts:

Rodney Henderson was found stabbed to death after leaving a party with Floyd Perkins and another, Damarr Jones. Perkins was charged with murder. Jones, the key prosecution witness, testified that Perkins alone committed the murder while Jones looked on. Perkins, however, testified that Jones and Henderson left him during the evening, and that he later saw Jones with blood on his clothing. Perkins was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His conviction became final in 1997.

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 which the factual predicate of the claim . . . could have been discovered through . . . due diligence.” § 2244(d)(1)(D).

More than 11 years after his conviction became final, Perkins filed his federal habeas petition, alleging, inter alia, ineffective assistance of trial counsel. To overcome AEDPA's time limitations, he asserted newly discovered evidence of actual innocence, relying on three affidavits, the most recent dated July 16, 2002, each pointing to Jones as the murderer. The District Court found that, even if the affidavits could be characterized as evidence newly discovered, Perkins had failed to show diligence entitling him to equitable tolling of AEDPA's limitations period. Alternatively, the court found, Perkins had not shown that, taking account of all the evidence, no reasonable juror would have convicted him. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Acknowledging that Perkins' petition was untimely and that he had not diligently pursued his rights, the court held that Perkins' actual-innocence claim allowed him to present his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim as if it had been filed on time. In so ruling, the court apparently considered Perkins' delay irrelevant to appraisal of his actual-innocence claim.

Issue:

Did the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit err in considering Perkins' delay irrelevant to appraisal of his actual-innocence claim?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

While the United States Supreme Court rejected the State’s argument that habeas petitioners who asserted convincing actual-innocence claims had to prove diligence to cross a federal court’s threshold, it found that the Sixth Circuit erred to the extent that it eliminated timing as a factor relevant in evaluating the reliability of the affidavits.

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