WASHINGTON The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to consider whether a state prisoner who claims he is innocent but waits several years to press his case is excused from the usual deadline to seek relief in federal courts.
Michigan was challenging the reversal of the 1997 murder conviction of Floyd Perkins for stabbing a man after a Flint, Michigan, house party four years earlier.
Perkins obtained affidavits in 1997, 1999 and 2002 that he said supported his innocence, but waited until June 2008 to ask a federal judge to overturn his conviction, nearly six years after the last affidavit was signed.
Michigan said the deadline for seeking such relief after obtaining "new evidence" was one year, unless a prisoner shows he sought relief diligently and that an extraordinary circumstance stood in his way to file sooner, neither of which occurred in Perkins' case.
A federal district judge agreed, but in March the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing the Supreme Court's "rich jurisprudence protecting the rights of the wrongfully incarcerated," said reasonable diligence was not a prerequisite to pursuing an actual innocence claim.
In its appeal, Michigan said seven federal appeals courts had addressed whether an actual innocence claim excuses an untimely filing - three courts saying it does not and four, including the 6th Circuit, saying it does. Michigan said the latter view was inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent.
Perkins' lawyer, Chad Readler of Jones Day, disagreed. "The clear trend in the federal courts is to allow an inmate his or her day in court," he said.
A decision is expected by the end of June.
The case is McQuiggin v. Perkins, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-126.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in Washington and Terry Baynes in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Mohammad Zargham)