Houman Fakhimi

Orange County Sex Crimes Defense Attorney

In a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision, time limits for certain types of criminal conviction appeals have been lifted.

However, those convicted of serious crimes should know that the opportunity for a successful appeal remains limited. Rancho Cucamonga Criminal Defense Lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows that the best way to stay out of prison is to win your case the first time around, which requires a skilled and experienced legal defense team.

As the case at the center of this decision reveals, even actual innocence is not necessarily enough to secure your freedom.

In McQuiggin v. Perkins, the case began as a homicide investigation. Three men left a party together in Michigan. One was later found murdered.

Each of the other two men blamed the slaying on the other. One of the two, Perkins, was later convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole. That conviction became final following the completion of an appeal back in 1997.

Per the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), a prisoner of the state has one year to file a federal habeas petition, which begins starting on the date that the judgment becomes final. However, if that petition alleges some newly-discovered evidence, then the filing deadline is upped to one year from the date on which the factual predicate of the claim could ahve been discovered through due diligence.

In this case, Perkins filed a federal habeas petition 11 years after his conviction was finalized. He alleged his legal defense counsel had been ineffective, but in order to overcome the AEDPA's statute of limitations, he said that there ws newly-discovered evidence of actual innocence. Those relied on three affidavits, themost recent of which was produced in the summer of 2002. Each of those affidavits identified the other man who had left the party that night as the true killer.

The district court, however, ruled that even with this new evidence, the defendant had failed to show dilligence in filing his petition in a timely manner. He also hadn't definitively shown that the evidence he possessed would have resulted in no reasonable juror handing down a conviction against him - the standard for an "actual innocence" claim - a rather high one at that.

That decision was later reversed by the Sixth Circuit, and ultimately appealed to the highest court in the land.

In a contentious ruling, here is essentially what they found:

A prisoner who can make a "convincing show of actual innocence" will be given leniency on this time limit constraints.

The original one-year deadline stemmed from a desire to halt the endless filing of prisoner appeals as a tactic to prevent state executions. This allowed death penalty cases to drag on endlessly, or until the prisoner eventually died of natural causes.

However, there have been several times since then where courts have been presented with cases where a prisoner is able to present new evidence that could prove his innocence. In a few of those cases, judges have permitted appeals to be made past the deadline because doing this could potentially prevent a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Most of these cases, though, involved some type of irrefutable evidence, such as new DNA testing that rules out the prisoner as the possible perpetrator.

So even though Perkins won his case, he may not necessarily win a new trial. His evidence of these three new affidavits may still not reach the high threshold of "actual innocence" to which the court referred.

No individual must assume that simply because they are innocent, they don't have to invest in a good lawyer. Likewise, they can't assume that a judicial error will be corrected. Your best shot is to win the first round.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Rancho Cucamonga.

Additional Resources

SCOTUS: Actual innocence may excuse blown habeas deadline; Scalia blasts 'shiny new exception', May 28, 2013, By Debra Cassens Weiss.