SCOTUS Hears Equitable Tolling Case

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether "gross negligence" by a state-appointed defense attorney in a death penalty case provides a basis for extending the time to file a federal habeas challenge, in a case where the habeas plea was filed late despite repeated instructions from the client.Mr. Holland, a prisoner on Florida's death row, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in a Florida Federal District Court. The district court dismissed the petition as untimely because it was filed beyond the one-year statute of limitations period. On appeal, Holland argued that he was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period for filing his federal habeas petition because of egregious conduct by his counsel during his post-conviction proceedings.Last August, a three-judge panel on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released a per curiam opinion affirming the district court's rejection of an extension to file the challenge. Noting: "Petitioner has offered no reason to believe an evidentiary hearing would help him demonstrate the required extraordinary circumstances to warrant equitable tolling," the appeals court held that: “"no allegation of lawyer negligence or of failure to meet a lawyer's standard of care -- in the absence of an allegation and proof of bad faith, dishonesty, divided loyalty, mental impairment, or so forth on the lawyer's part -- can rise to egregious attorney misconduct that would entitle the Petitioner to equitable tolling" under the AEDPA.”On Oct. 13, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case. Oral arguments are expected to be scheduled for some time early next year . The questions presented include: Whether "gross negligence" by a state-appointed defense attorney in a death penalty case provides a basis for extending the time to file a federal habeas challenge, in a case where the habeas plea was filed late despite repeated instructions from the client. Holland v Florida, Supreme Court No. 09-5327. To read the cert petition, click here. (Updated November 4th).