For Immediate Release
Constitution Project Welcomes Supreme Court's Decision in Holland v. Florida
Court holds that doctrine of equitable tolling potentially allows death row inmate's habeas claims to proceed
WASHINGTON - The Constitution Project welcomes today's
opinion from the United States Supreme Court in Holland v. Florida, holding that
equitable tolling may apply to the statutory limitations period in the
Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Mr. Holland was
convicted of murder in 1996 and sentenced to death by a Florida state
court. His direct and collateral appeals to Florida appellate courts
were denied, beginning a limited period for filing a federal habeas petition. Despite Mr.
Holland's repeated requests for his state-appointed lawyer to file for
federal habeas relief in a
timely manner, the lawyer failed to do so.
Today's Supreme Court
decision clarifies that AEDPA's limitation are subject to equitable
tolling when petitioners show that they have been pursuing their rights
diligently and "extraordinary circumstances" stood in their way that
prevented timely filing. The Court also found that a petitioner does not have to show "bad faith,
dishonesty, divided loyalty, mental impairment or so forth on the
lawyer's part" in order to demonstrate that the attorney's failure to
satisfy professional standards of care constituted "extraordinary
circumstances" sufficient to meet the equitable tolling standard. While
the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further
consideration about whether equitable tolling should apply in Mr.
Holland's case, the Court noted in doing so that "this case may well be
an 'extraordinary' instance in which petitioner's attorney's conduct
constituted far more than 'garden variety' or 'excusable neglect.'"
following can be attributed to Gerald Kogan, former Chief Justice of
the Florida Supreme Court and Co-chair of the Constitution Project's
Death Penalty Committee:
"The Supreme Court rightfully held that
the principle of equitable tolling applied to AEDPA's statutory
limitations today, and that the Court of Appeals should consider whether
Albert Holland's attorney's conduct constituted 'extraordinary
circumstances sufficient to warrant equitable relief.' 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. Denying Mr.
Holland's claims based on a procedural rule would have been a
significant injustice that would cast doubt on the fundamental fairness
of our criminal justice system."
According to Constitution
Project President Virginia Sloan, "Today's decision also underscores the
critical need for competent and adequately funded counsel to be
appointed to capital defendants at all stages of post-conviction
litigation, and for proper oversight mechanisms to ensure that these
lawyers provide proper representation. Mr. Holland relied on his
attorney to file the petition on time, but his lawyer failed
him. Competent representation could have avoided the need for today's
decision and allowed the courts to reach the merits in a timely
In the Constitution Project's Death Penalty Committee's
2005 report, Mandatory Justice: The
Death Penalty Revisited, the Committee makes specific
recommendations for improving the fairness of the capital punishment
system. In particular, Mandatory
Justice stresses that each state that permits the death penalty
should appoint competent and adequately compensated counsel to capital
defendants at all stages of capital litigation, including state and
federal post-conviction proceedings. The report also emphasizes that
procedural barriers of the kind Mr. Holland faced should not prevent
courts from hearing constitutional claims.
To view Mandatory Justice: The Death Penalty
Revisited, go to: http://www.
The Constitution Project is a politically independent think tank established in 1997 to promote and defend constitutional safeguards. More information about the Constitution Project is available at http://constitutionproject.org/.