Supreme Court Allows Late Appeal Under Extraordinary Circumstances

On June 14, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Albert Holland, who lost his right to file a federal appeal of his death sentence when his lawyer missed the 1-year deadline established under the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Holland’s attorney’s conduct in missing the deadline was not egregious enough to warrant setting aside the imposed deadline. The appeals court said that the attorney would have had to act with “bad faith, dishonesty, divided loyalty, or mental impairment” to be excused from the imposed deadline, and that gross negligence was not enough of a reason. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s decision, saying that its standard was too rigid. The Court said, “We have previously held that a garden variety claim of excusable neglect, such as simple miscalculation that leads a lawyer to miss a filing deadline, does not warrant [an exemption from the deadline]. But this case before us does not involve, and we are not considering, a garden variety claim of attorney negligence. Rather, the facts of this case present far more serious instances of attorney misconduct.” Holland’s lawyer failed to communicate with him for several years, despite letters from Holland asking information regarding his appeals. Holland also contacted state courts and the Florida Bar Association in an effort to have the lawyer removed from the case.

The Court held that equitable tolling may apply to AEDPA’s statute of limitations. The case was reversed and remanded back to the 11th Circuit for consideration of an extension of time for Holland’s filing a federal appeal in light of the Supreme Court’s standards contained in its opinion. Justice BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice ROBERTS and Justices STEVENS, KENNEDY, GINSBURG, and SOTOMAYOR joined. Justice ALITO filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice SCALIA filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice THOMAS joined in part.

(W. Richey, “Supreme Court gives hope to some death-row inmates,” Christian Science Monitor, June 14, 2010; Holland v. Florida, No. 09-5327 (June 14, 2010)). Read the Supreme Court opinion here. See also U.S. Supreme Court.