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April 10, 2012

A habeas example of man bites dog: New York loses habeas appeal based on procedural default

Frequently, state prisoners seeking relief in federal courts through habeas petitions fail even to get their potentially valid substantive claims heard because of some procedural default in prior efforts to challenge their conviction.  Today, in Stevens v. Miller, No. 11-5343 (2d Cir. Apr. 10, 2012) (available here), the procedural shoes ends up on the other foot.  The legal backstory for this ruling is complicated (and includes Apprendi jurisprudence), but this paragraph from the start of the discussion highlights the basics:  

The State claims that the district court abused its discretion in denying its Rule 60(b)(6) motion. The State’s primary argument on appeal is that the district court should 5 have granted its motion because Portalatin constituted a supervening change in governing law that called into question the correctness of the district court’s judgment [which granted habeas relief to the defendant].  It also points to other circumstances it believes make this case “extraordinary.”  The State asserts, among other things, that it had no reason to suspect that the district court would issue a ruling when it did, that the Clerk’s Office failed to provide the State notice of judgment, that Stevens’s counsel “misled” the district court, and that “comity concerns” counsel in favor of granting the State’s motion.  We find that, even when viewed in the light most charitable to the State, the State’s motion is nothing more 17 than one premised on its own mistake, inadvertence, surprise, and neglect –- in other words, an untimely Rule 60(b)(1) motion masquerading as a Rule 60(b)(6) motion. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the State its requested relief.

April 10, 2012 at 02:43 PM | Permalink


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So basically a federal court, contrary to law, is going to spring a guy.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 10, 2012 3:13:34 PM

> So basically a federal court, contrary to law,
> is going to spring a guy.

Not at all -- a federal court is refusing to make an EXCEPTION to the law for an Attorney General's office that screwed up. And the reason is because they knew any other choice would lead to chaos in the long run.
I've been following this case for awhile, and I knew it was a winner from the start, because it's very similar to a case I had in 1998 in the Southern District. There, my [criminal defense] office won a habeas decision we probably didn't deserve, but the Assistant Attorney General assigned to the case went on vacation without having anyone watch his desk, so he didn't file his notice of appeal during the first 30 days (during which an appellant can file NOA without serving the respondent). Then, during days 31-60 (when the rules say you absolutely MUST serve the respondent), he bungled service on us by mailing it to our previous address more than a year after we had moved (and he had no one to blame but himself because service by mail was against the rules anyway).

So the AG's office screwed up and was not allowed to appeal our win, for the same reason as in this case (although the incompetence in this case wasn't as bad as in mine). But it had to be that way -- if federal courts started allowing law office incompetence to be an excuse for untimely notices of appeal, everyone who didn't file on time would claim that, and there would be no way to tell who was lying because no one outside the office would know what really happened.

More important, this wouldn't just affect criminal habeas cases like this one, but ALL civil cases, and a disparity among circuits in the procedural rules for timely appeals would open the door to forum shopping, arguments by parties in other circuits to adopt the Second Circuit's "new rule," and many other problems. This was good luck for the defendant here, but making an exception in this case would be opening Pandora's box.

Posted by: Michael Taglieri | Apr 10, 2012 9:18:29 PM

Um, I don't see how any of that refutes my post. A federal court screwed the pooch, and a criminal benefited. If the court had gotten it right in the first place, none of this would have happened. So a federal court lawlessly sprung a criminal. If that guy victimizes someone when he should have been in jail, that victimization is on that federal judge.

Funny how you guys want the state to turn square corners but scream bloody murder when defense counsel blow deadlines etc. Tell you what--I'd be happy to allow this sort of nonsense--but the rules be enforced against capital murderers who do last minute appeals.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 10, 2012 11:00:52 PM

Enlighten me, federalist, where did the court mess up. Do you mean somewhere in District Court a clerk messed up? I just skimmed though it so maybe there was something I missed. But I just saw a good job by the defense attorney.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 11, 2012 12:54:17 AM

i'm with you daniel. from what i read. seems EVERYONE did thier job EXCEPT the state's attorneys! and now they are paying for it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 11, 2012 1:44:53 AM

So basically a federal court, contrary to law, is going to spring a guy.

by: federalist 10 Apr 2012 @ 15:13:34 EDT

As I read the 2nd Circuit's 23 page opinion , it appeared that the issue was whether the District Court abused its discretion and whether the state used a correct and timely road road to undo the writ .

Both Qs were answered in the negative .

There was no murder involved .

Would you please be kind enough to show with page(s) and line number(s) where the CCA-2 acted illegally .

Love/Hate mail to Jim_Brady@Safe-mail.net

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady ¦ Nemo Me Impune Lacessit | Apr 11, 2012 6:08:45 AM

The guy never should have gotten sprung in the first place. The grant of habeas was, as things turned out, erroneous. So, we have a snooty appeals court dumping on the state when a federal district court got it wrong in the first place.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 11, 2012 8:16:39 AM

nope what we have is a federal appellape court dumping on an state's attonery too lazy or too stupid to do their job probably on the not unrealistict belive that once they shove someone in prison...they are shafted for life! but this time the screw up's got caught be a lawyer willing to shaft the state for a change instead of sucking up and covering up!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 11, 2012 12:59:38 PM

I'll assume arguendo that you're right, federalist. What do you propose the appeals court should have done instead? Make an exception for missed deadlines only for state attorneys?

Posted by: Res ipsa | Apr 11, 2012 3:36:36 PM

First, the appeals court could chill with the 'tude. Second, the 2d Circuit could understand that habeas is different. So yes, I am saying that the 2d Circuit should have bent over backward for the state.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 11, 2012 4:17:13 PM

'So yes, I am saying that the 2d Circuit should have bent over backward for the state.'

Huh, you gotta be kidding, that sounds like really warped logic

Posted by: Hap | Apr 11, 2012 6:40:41 PM

oh they did fed! if this comedy of errors and missed dealines had been on the part of the DEFENDANT the case would have been summarly dismissed and bared complety at the local lvl!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 12, 2012 12:52:39 AM

hmm interesting...no response huh! about what i thought!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 12, 2012 4:31:39 PM

Why would I respond, rod,--your post is nothing more than: "The state f'd up, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah."

Perhaps so, but so did the federal district court.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 15, 2012 2:39:00 AM

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