McQuiggin v. Perkins

A Michigan court convicted Lloyd Perkins of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. Nearly twenty years later, Perkins is now challenging his conviction based on new evidence supporting his innocence. The lower courts rejected Perkins’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus because of his failure to meet the statute of limitations according to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Perkins maintains that Supreme Court precedent does not require petitioners to reasonably and diligently pursue their underlying constitutional claims to invoke an actual-innocence exception. Perkins also argues that, since traditional equitable principles dictate that courts have the authority to fashion equitable remedies to fill statutory gaps, tolling AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations does not run contrary to express congressional intent. McQuiggin counters that AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations cannot be equitably tolled for petitioners who have failed to reasonably and diligently pursue their constitutional claims. Furthermore, McQuiggin argues that courts cannot equitably toll AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations in Perkins’ case because doing so would alter the express meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). This case will determine the responsibilities of federal courts in hearing habeas corpus petitions and define the avenues in which inmates can attempt to prove their innocence. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Whether there is an actual-innocence exception to the requirement that a petitioner show an extraordinary circumstance that “prevented timely filing” of a habeas petition.
  2. If so, whether there is an additional actual-innocence exception to the requirement that a petitioner demonstrate that “he has been pursuing his rights diligently.”

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Issue(s)

Does the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) implicitly contain an actual-innocence exception (1) to the requirement that petitioners show that an extraordinary circumstance prevented them from timely filing their habeas petition and (2) to the requirement that petitioners demonstrate that they have been diligently pursuing their rights?

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Facts

A Michigan jury convicted respondent Floyd Perkins of murder for the fatal stabbing of Rodney Henderson. Perkins v. McQuiggin, 670 F.3d 665, 667 (6th Cir. 2012). The Michigan trial court subsequently sentenced Perkins to life imprisonment. Id.The conviction arose out of events occurring on March 4, 1993, when Perkins, Henderson, and Damarr Jones attended a house party together in Flint, Michigan. Id. Jones testified at trial that, upon leaving that party with both Henderson and Jones, Perkins pulled out a knife and fatally stabbed Henderson. Id.Perkins disputed Jones’ testimony, claiming that he, Henderson, and Jones went to a liquor store after the party and that Henderson and Jones left the store before Perkins. Id.Moreover, Perkins testified that Jones was standing under a streetlight by himself wearing blood-stained clothing the next time Perkins saw him. Id. 

Perkins appealed the conviction, but exhausted all of his appeals to the state court on May 5, 1997. Perkins v. Mcquiggin, 670 F.3d 665, 667–68 (6th Cir. 2012). Over ten years later, Perkins filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the Federal District Court for the Western District of Michigan challenging the validity of his conviction. Id.To support his petition, Perkins offered three affidavits that allegedly proved Perkins' innocence and Jones’ guilt. Id. at 668. These affidavits contained statements alleging that Jones’ admitted to killing Henderson and also inquired about Jones using a cleaner to remove bloodstains from his clothing. Id. 

On initial hearing, the federal magistrate judge recommended that the district court dismiss the petition. Perkins v. McQuiggin, 670 F.3d 665, 668 (6th Cir. 2012). The judge determined that Perkins failed to file the petition within the time period allowed under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) and therefore the statute of limitations barred Perkins' claim. Id.Perkins objected to the magistrate judge's recommendation noting that AEDPA provides extra time for new evidence and argued that because he presented evidence of actual innocence, the court should equitably toll the statute of limitations clock. Id.The district court adopted the magistrate judge's recommendation and dismissed the petition determining that the added time for new evidence expired in 2003, almost five years before Perkins' filed his claim. Id. The district court also refused to equitably toll the clock because the new evidence was substantially available to Perkins and because Perkins failed to use reasonable diligence in pursuing his claim. Id.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned the district court's ruling. Perkins v. McQuiggin, 670 F.3d 665, 670–71 (6th Cir. 2012). The court determined that Congress did not intend to limit the court's power to equitably toll the statute of limitations based on evidence of actual innocence to only one added year. Id.Also, the court of appeals rejected the district court's ruling that AEDPA requires the convict to exercise reasonable diligence in pursuing the claim. Id. at 673–674.

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Discussion

Petitioner, Greg McQuiggin, Warden of a Michigan correctional facility, argues that the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit erred in refusing to dismiss Perkins' petition for habeas corpus because it violated the statute of limitations set by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). Brief for Petitioner, Greg McQuiggin, at 19. Specifically, McQuiggin contends that the Sixth Circuit's opinion conflicted with the Supreme Court of the United States' opinion in Holland v. Florida. Id.McQuiggin argues that, according to Holland, courts can only apply equitable tolling where there is an extraordinary circumstance that hindered timely filing and the convict demonstrated that the convict diligently pursued the claims. Id. 

Floyd Perkins responds that AEDPA incorporates the traditional "miscarriage of justice" exception to the statute of limitations, allowing tolling when a convict could show that based on new evidence, no reasonable juror would decide to convict the prisoner. Brief for Respondent, Floyd Perkins, at 20.  Perkins contends further that the "miscarriage of justice" exception is consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion in Holland. Id.at 26.

Effect on Prisoner Appeals

Alabama and sixteen other states contend that allowing equitable tolling after the statute of limitations expires will strain the resources of the criminal justice system. Brief of Amicus Curiae Alabama et al. in support of Petitioner at 11. Alabama and the other states contend that allowing late petitions is contrary to the intent of Congress in drafting AEDPA and to the interest of the State in settling habeas corpus claims in an efficient manner. Id.Alabama argues that Congress enacted the AEDPA to mitigate the costs of habeas corpus appeals. Id. 11–12. Alabama argues that the factual determinations that many constitutional claims involve—like ineffective counsel and denial of a fair trial—are difficult to evaluate after many years have gone by. Id.at 12–13. Alabama also contends that it is particularly difficult to assess a prisoner's guilt or innocence years after the crime because witnesses may not be available or able to remember and physical evidence may be lost. Id. at 13–14.  Finally, Alabama asserts that the Sixth Circuit's ruling will encourage prisoner's to file unsubstantiated claims of innocence, which cost the State significant resources to challenge. Id. at 14–15.

The Innocence Network argues that recognizing an actual-innocence exception would not increase the burdens on the courts because actual-innocence claims are rare and difficult to prove. Brief of Amicus Curiae The Innocence Network in Support of Respondent at 30–32. Also, the Innocence Network contends that inmates would have no motive to unnecessarily delay their petitions because inmates would not desire to be in prison any longer. Id. at 33–34. The Innocence Network also asserts that prisoners’ cases risk becoming weaker with time. Id. at 34–35. Current and former law enforcement officials argue that investigators often depend on the passage of time to build evidence and tough cases. Brief of Amicus Curiae Current and Former Law Enforcement Officials in Support of Respondent at 9–12. The law enforcement officials contend that inmates rely on the same passage of time but have access to significantly less resources than investigators. Id. at 16–17. Finally, the Innocence Network notes that the prime purpose of the court system is to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent—an actual-innocence exception serves this function. Brief of Amicus Curiae The Innocence Network at 4–5.

Federalism

Alabama also argues that the states already provide remedies for wrongfully convicted prisoners and thus that allowing indefinite equitable tolling is unnecessary to protect innocent petitioners. Brief of Amicus Curiae Alabama et al. in support of Petitioner at 4. Alabama asserts that state courts are better equipped to provide a remedy to actual-innocence claims than federal courts. Id. at 4–5. Also, because states offer different procedures for granting relief, Alabama argues that a claim defeated in a federal habeas corpus petition may still have a state remedy. Id. at 5–8. Finally, Alabama contends that the harm of losing a habeas corpus petition is further mitigated by the power of the state executive branch to pardon inmates with claims of innocence. Id. at 8–10. 

Perkins argues that it would not make sense to pursue his constitutional claims in state court because Perkins has already pursued those claims on direct appeal.Brief for Respondent, Floyd Perkins, at 54–55. Moreover, Perkins argues that to ask an inmate to bring his claims in state court would be asking the inmate to return to the court that allegedly violated the inmate's constitutional rights.  Id. at 55–56. Finally, Perkins asserts that the mere possibility of receiving a pardon has never prevented the Court from applying the miscarriage-of-justice exception in other cases. Id. at 56. 

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Analysis

A writ of habeas corpus is an equitable remedy used to determine whether a prisoner’s imprisonment is unlawful. See Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 319 (1995). Although Congress has adopted strict standards and rules regarding habeas petitions, courts routinely fill the gaps in habeas statutes using equitable principles. SeeO’Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 445 (1995); see also Holland v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2549, 2560, 2560 (2010).

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), convicted defendants have one year from “the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence” to file a habeas corpus petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(D). However, because AEDPA’s statute of limitations is not jurisdictional, it is subject to a rebuttable presumption in favor of equitably tolling. Holland v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2549, 2560 (2010). Thus, AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations can be equitably tolled when petitioners who diligently and reasonably pursue their claims are unable to meet the statute of limitations’ requirements due to “extraordinary circumstances” beyond their control. Id.at 2560, 2562 (2010) (quoting Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 418 (2005)).

Although credible claims of actual innocence are not an independent basis for relief, Supreme Court precedent recognizes that credible claims of actual innocence can serve as a “gateway” to review federal constitutional error claims that are otherwise procedurally barred. Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 315 (1995) (quoting Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 404 (1993)). To qualify for an “actual-innocence exception” and pursue an actual innocence claim petitioners must demonstrate that, in light of the new evidence, no reasonable jury would find them guilty. Id. at 329.

Respondent Floyd Perkins maintains that Supreme Court precedent does not require petitioners to reasonably and diligently pursue their underlying constitutional claims to invoke an actual-innocence exception. Brief for Respondent, Floyd Perkins at 20, 50–51. Perkins also avers that traditional equitable principles dictate that courts have the authority to fashion equitable remedies to fill statutory gaps. See id. at 38–40. Thus, Perkins maintains that tolling AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations does not run contrary to express congressional intent. See id.

Petitioner Greg McQuiggin counters that AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations cannot be equitably tolled for petitioners who have failed to reasonably and diligently pursue their constitutional claims. Brief for Petitioner, Greg McQuiggin at 17. Furthermore, McQuiggin argues that courts lack the discretion to use equitable remedies to alter the express meaning of congressional statutes. See id.McQuiggin maintains that equitably tolling AEDPA’s statute of limitations in Perkins’ case will allow petitioners to unjustifiably circumvent AEDPA’s statute of limitations period. See id. 

Compliance with Supreme Court Precedent

Respondent Floyd Perkins notes that the Supreme Court’s “miscarriage of justice” exception allows courts to consider procedurally barred claims when, in light of new evidence, a reasonable jury would find it more likely than not that no reasonable juror could convict the defendant in light of the new evidence. Brief for Respondent at 20 (citing Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995)). Perkins argues that the Supreme Court allows the miscarriage of justice exception to apply to credible innocence claims in every context in which courts, Congress, or the States have imposed procedural limits. See Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.at 21, 25 (citing Schlup, 513 U.S. at 321).  Moreover, Perkins argues that the fact that the Supreme Court allowed AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations to be equitably tolled in Holland v. Florida demonstrates that 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) includes the miscarriage of justice exception. Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.at 26 (citing 130 S. Ct. 2549, 2560–62 (2010)).

Petitioner Greg McQuiggin argues that, although the Supreme Court permitted the equitable tolling of AEDPA’s statute of limitations in Holland v. Florida, AEDPA’s statute of limitations period cannot be equitably tolled in Perkins’ case. Brief for Petitioner at 19. McQuiggin maintains that the miscarriage of justice exception is inapplicable to 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)’s statute of limitations because § 2244(d)(1)’s statute of limitations period does not start running until “the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.” Id. at 17. McQuiggin contends that, like the actual-innocence exception, § 2244(d)(1) protects diligent defendants who have credible claims based on new evidence while simultaneously maintaining an express statute of limitations period. See id.Thus, McQuiggin asserts that the miscarriage of justice exception is inapplicable in Perkins’ case because Perkins failed to diligently pursue his claim and is merely attempting to invoke the miscarriage of justice exception to circumvent § 2244(d)(1)’s express diligence requirement and statute of limitations period. See id.at  17–18. 

Perkins counters that the Supreme Court’s miscarriage of justice exception has never required defendants to diligently pursue their habeas claims. Brief for Respondent at 20, 50–51 (citing McClesky v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 498 (1991)). Moreover, Perkins maintains that, under Holland v. Florida, AEDPA’s statute of limitations—a federal, non-jurisdictional statute of limitations—is normally subject to a rebuttable presumption favoring equitable tolling.Id.at 26 (citing 130 S. Ct. at 2560 (quoting Irwin v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 95–96 (1990)). Furthermore, Perkins notes that, in areas of law where “equitable principles have traditionally governed,” the Supreme Court has expressly refused to interpret statutes in a manner that displaces courts’ traditional equitable authority “absent the clearest command.” See id. at 27 (quoting Holland, 130 S. Ct. at 2560). Thus, because writs of habeas corpus are governed by traditional equitable remedies, Perkins argues that the miscarriage of justice exception justifies equitably tolling AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations in his case because a sufficient showing of actual innocence is usually sufficient to justify granting petitioners’ habeas petitions and adjudicating their procedurally barred claims. See id. at 28 (citing Holland, 130 S. Ct. at 2560; Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680, 700 (1993)). 

McQuiggin argues that courts have traditionally required defendants seeking to use new exculpatory evidence to equitably toll AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations to introduce that evidence promptly and to diligently pursue their underlying constitutional claims. Brief for Petitioner, Greg McQuiggin at 14–15 (citing Holland v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2549, 2560, 2562 (2010) (quoting Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 418 (2005)). Specifically, McQuiggin maintains that, in Holland v. Florida, the Supreme Court expressly held that equitable tolling can only be used when petitioners reasonably and diligently pursue their claims and extraordinary circumstances prevent the petitioners from filing their claims before the running of the applicable statute of limitations. Id. at 26 (citing 130 S. Ct. at 2562). McQuiggin further avers that the Supreme Court has never used its equitable powers to create an unlimited time frame for filing habeas claims based on actual innocence. Id. at 16, 19. Thus, McQuiggin asserts that AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations should not be equitably tolled in Perkins’ case because Perkins failed to promptly introduce his new evidence and diligently pursue his underlying constitutional claim, as required by Supreme Court precedent. See id. at 28.

Balancing Equitable Relief and Congressional Intent

McQuiggin acknowledges that AEDPA’s silence in regards to whether equitable tolling could apply to its one-year statute of limitations implies that Congress intended for traditional equity rules to apply. Brief for Petitioner at 19. However, McQuiggin asserts that the express language of 28 U.S.C. § 2244 demonstrates that Congress only intended to allow petitioners to avoid AEDPA’s one-year statue of limitations by presenting new evidence in a very limited number of situations. Id. at 17. For example, McQuiggin points to § 2244(b)(2)(B), which allows petitioners who have already filed a habeas petition to subsequently file additional habeas petitions and, thus avoid AEDPA’s statute of limitations, after uncovering new evidence through the exercise of due diligence. See id. at 17. McQuiggin argues that the fact that § 2244(d)(2)(D) lacks a provision that expressly allows petitioners seeking to introduce new evidence to avoid AEDPA’s statute of limitations demonstrates that Congress did not intend for AEDPA’s statute of limitations to be subject to equitable tolling in situations where petitioners have not already filed a habeas petition and have not exercised reasonable diligence to uncover and present new evidence. See id. at 17–18.

Perkins maintains that, prior to AEDPA, federal courts usually interpreted habeas statutes in a manner that allowed them to use their own judicial discretion when determining whether federal or state procedural defaults should apply. Brief for Respondent at 38. In addition, Perkins asserts that the Supreme Court’s historical practice of filling the gaps in habeas statutes confirms that if Congress had intended to prevent courts from filling in the gaps in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2)(D) by applying the miscarriage of justice exception to AEDPA it would have done so in express terms. See id.(citing Merck & Co. v. Reynolds, 130 S. Ct. 1784, 1795).Thus, Perkins argues that equitable principles can be used to toll AEDPA’s statute of limitations because AEDPA is silent in regards to whether traditional equitable principles can be used to toll its statute of limitations, thus implicitly allowing courts to apply equitable remedies. Id.at 26.

McQuiggin argues that indefinitely tolling AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations contravenes congressional intent by effectively abrogating AEDPA’s express statute of limitations. Id.at 23. McQuiggin argues that federal courts typically only provide equitable relief for petitioners who diligently pursue their rights. Id.at 27 (citing Irwin v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 96 (1990); Baldwin Cnty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 151 (1984)). Moreover McQuiggin notes that equitable tolling only applies when defendants demonstrate that they have been pursuing their rights diligently and that extraordinary circumstances prevented them from filing their habeas claim in a timely manner. See id.at 19 (citing Holland v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2549, 2562 (2010)). McQuiggin asserts that Perkins is not entitled to equitable tolling of the AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations period because he failed to diligently pursue his ineffective assistance claim. Id.at 27.

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Conclusion

In this case, the Supreme Court will determine whether an actual-innocence exception can be used to equitably toll AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations in cases where petitioners have failed to exercise reasonable diligence to pursue their constitutional claims. Perkins contends that Supreme Court precedent does not require petitioners to reasonably and diligently pursue their underlying constitutional claims to invoke an actual-innocence exception. Perkins also argues that, since traditional equitable principles dictate that courts have the authority to fashion equitable remedies to fill statutory gaps, tolling AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations does not run contrary to express congressional intent. McQuiggin counters that AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations cannot be equitably tolled for petitioners who have failed to reasonably and diligently pursue their constitutional claims. Furthermore, McQuiggin argues that courts cannot equitably toll AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations in Perkins’ case because doing so would alter the express meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will ultimately balance AEDPA’s express congressional language with the strong policy interest of permitting petitioners with credible innocence claims to present other untimely claims to prevent the petitioners’ wrongful incarceration.

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Edited by 

Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank Professor Keir Weyble for his insights into this case.

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