Since my previous post on the United States Supreme Court case of Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63, I’ve been wondering if we are seeing a kinder, gentler Court, at least in the area of federal petitions for writ of habeas corpus. I think the answer is yes.
If you took a few moments to read Maples, you’re familiar with the Court’s exercise of leniency toward Maples, which is somewhat rare in habeas cases. (As I mentioned in my previous post, habeas petitioners are often penalized for mistakes made by their postconviction attorney). You’d also recall that in Maples, the Court relied heavily on Holland v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2549 (2010).
Holland is another case where the Supreme Court also showed leniency toward a federal habeas petitioner. In Holland, the Court held, for the first time, that (1) the one year statute of limitations contained in section 2244(d) (governing the filing of section 2254 federal habeas petitions challenging state court convictions) can be tolled for equitable reasons; and, (2) an attorney’s professional misconduct may, at times, constitute “extraordinary circumstances” to warrant equitable tolling. See Maples, No. 10-63, slip op. at *13 (recalling holding of Holland). Significantly, in Holland, the Court explicitly stated that the analysis employed by the Eleventh Circuit to determine whether an attorney’s misconduct might warrant equitable tolling was “too rigid.” See Holland, 130 S.Ct. at 2549. While the Court didn’t reach the conclusion that the professional misconduct of Holland’s attorney rose to the level of “extraordinary circumstances” sufficient to warrant equitable tolling, the Court did remand the case back to the Eleventh Circuit for such a determination. See Holland, 130 S.Ct. at 2565. The Eleventh Circuit, in turn, remanded the matter back to the District Court for a possible evidentiary hearing on the issue. See Holland v. Florida, 613 F.3d 1053 (11th Cir. 2010). As of the date of this post, the status and disposition of Holland’s case in the District Court is unclear. Westlaw does not show any further published opinions subsequent to the Eleventh Circuit remand at 613 F.3d 1053. However, I suppose if you have time to kill, you could always check PACER for the status of Holland’s case. His case originated locally, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and appears to be assigned case number No. 06-20182-CV-PAS (Judge Seitz).
While I have not yet had the time to review the 2,358 opinions which cite to Holland, I think it’s fair to say that Holland may have begun a new era in postconviction litigation. While it’s true that habeas petitioners have long argued that they should not be held accountable for the mistakes of their lawyers, habeas petitioners now have a strong case to point to in support of such argument.