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Supreme Court gives hope to some death-row inmates

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that, under extraordinary circumstances, courts should accept death row appeals even after a one-year statute of limitations has expired.

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The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Eleventh Circuit to determine whether the facts surrounding Holland’s attempted appeal entitle him to an exemption from the deadline and a new opportunity to file his appeal in federal court.

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In a dissent, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said AEDPA’s deadline should be strictly enforced. “The court’s impulse to intervene when a litigant’s lawyer has made mistakes is understandable; the temptation to tinker with technical rules to achieve what appears a just result is often strong, especially when the client faces a capital sentence,” Scalia wrote. “But the Constitution does not empower federal courts to rewrite, in the name of equity, rules that Congress has made.”

Gerald Kogan, a former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court and co-chair of the Constitution Project’s Death Penalty Committee, praised the high court’s decision.

“Mr. Holland should not face the death penalty without the opportunity to exhaust all potentially valid legal claims, and those claims should not be barred due to the gross negligence of his state-appointed attorney,” Kogan said.

“This decision is a victory for basic fairness,” said John Holdridge, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project. “Disturbingly, there are death row inmates who have not been able to file a federal habeas petition because their attorneys missed a filing deadline,” he said. “For the first time, the court has held that they will now have an opportunity to show that they should be allowed to file a petition if the deadline has passed because of attorney misconduct or gross negligence.”

Holland was convicted in 1997 of first degree murder. After attacking and sexually assaulting a woman, Holland got into a scuffle with a police officer. He eventually grabbed the officer’s gun and shot him twice. Holland was sentenced to death and has been on Florida’s death row since his conviction.