Cases & Deals

U.S. Supreme Court rules for habeas corpus petitioner asserting "actual innocence"

Client(s) Perkins, Floyd

On May 28, 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided in favor of Jones Day client Floyd Perkins, a Michigan inmate represented pro bono, in a case significant to habeas corpus petitioners seeking to have untimely claims heard based on credible claims of actual innocence. In McQuiggin v. Perkins, the Supreme Court, addressing Perkins's habeas corpus claims brought after the expiration of the federal statute of limitations, held that "actual innocence, if proved, serves as a gateway through which a petitioner may pass whether the impediment is a procedural bar . . . or . . . expiration of the statute of limitations." The Court also held that "habeas petitioners who assert convincing actual-innocence claims" need not "prove diligence to cross a federal court's threshold," although diligence "bears on the determination whether the petitioner has made the . . . showing" required to overcome the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") statute of limitations.

Perkins, proceeding pro se, filed a late federal habeas corpus petition with the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan. He requested equitable relief on the ground that he had a credible claim of actual innocence. The District Court found that Perkins had failed to pursue habeas relief with reasonable diligence and dismissed his petition. Jones Day represented Perkins before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which reversed and remanded. At the State of Michigan's request, the Supreme Court granted certiorari "to resolve a Circuit conflict on whether AEDPA's statute of limitations can be overcome by a showing of actual innocence."

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, agreed with Perkins that AEDPA's statute of limitations is not a bar to seeking habeas relief where a petitioner has a credible claim of actual innocence. The Court rejected Michigan's argument that allowing an "equitable exception" to AEDPA's statute of limitations where a convincing claim of actual innocence can be made is contrary to AEDPA's text. Further rejecting Michigan's interpretation of the innocence exception, the Court held that a petitioner's asserted lack of diligence is not a freestanding bar to asserting the innocence exception, but that the timing of the evidence is simply one consideration in determining whether the petitioner has made a credible showing of actual innocence. The Supreme Court concluded by remanding to the Sixth Circuit so that it may assess the merits of Perkins's request for equitable relief based on his assertion of innocence.

Jones Day partner Chad Readler (Columbus) argued the case. The Jones Day team also included Eric Murphy and Allison Haedt (Columbus) and Jason Burnette (Atlanta).

McQuiggin v. Perkins, 569 U. S. ___ (2013)