Cases & Deals

Sixth Circuit remands mentally ill habeas petitioner's case for evidentiary hearing

Clients Ata, Muzzafer

On November 28, 2011, Jones Day Columbus won a victory for a mentally ill Michigan prisoner before the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The prisoner, Muzaffer Ata, is serving a life sentence for first degree murder. Mr. Ata has a life-long history of severe paranoid schizophrenia and has been hospitalized numerous times because of this mental condition.

Several years after his conviction became final, Mr. Ata filed a late federal habeas petition with the Eastern District of Michigan asserting several defects during his trial, including ineffective assistance of trial counsel. In filing his petition, Mr. Ata acknowledged that the petition was too late and requested equitable tolling of the limitations period due to his mental illness. He also requested an evidentiary hearing on this issue. Instead of granting an evidentiary hearing, the District Court dismissed the petition as time-barred.

On appeal, Jones Day argued on behalf of Mr. Ata that the District Court erred when it dismissed Mr. Ata's habeas petition without first conducting an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Mr. Ata's mental illness prevented him from filing his petition on time. The Sixth Circuit agreed and has remanded Mr. Ata's case to the District Court for that evidentiary hearing.

Mr. Ata's case presented an important issue that had not been fully addressed in the Sixth Circuit: what a mentally ill habeas petitioner, whose petition is time-barred, must allege to receive an evidentiary hearing on whether the petitioner's mental illness prevented the timely filing of the habeas petition, permitting the limitations period to be equitably tolled. The opinion has been published, and it will help clarify the law in the Sixth Circuit on this issue going forward.

Jones Day's representation of Mr. Ata was handled by Associates Daniel N. Jabe and Carrie M. Lymanstall.

Ata v. Scutt, No. 09-1522 (6th Cir. 2011)