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Monday, July 18, 2005

Halbert: Michigan must provide counsel on first-tier appeal

In Halbert v. Michigan, No. 03-10198 (U.S. June 23, 2005), the Supreme Court held that the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses require the appointment of counsel for defendants, convicted on based on their pleas, who seek access to first-tier review (direct appeal) in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Court thus reaffirmed its holding in Douglas v.California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963), that, in criminal proceedings, a State must provide counsel for an indigent defendant in a first appeal as of right. The Court distinguished Ross v. Moffit, 417 U.S. 600 (1974) in which it held that a State need not appoint counsel to aid a poor person seeking to pursue a second-tier discretionary appeal to the State's highest court or certiorari review to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Michigan constitution was amended to provide that "an appeal by an accused who pleads guilty or nolo contendere shall be by leave of court." Mich. Const., art. I, § 20. Despite the discretionary nature of such an appeal, the Court looked at the function of the state appellate court vis-a-vis the state supreme court and ruled that the appellate court fell within the Douglas category rather than the Ross category. Key to its decision was the fact that the appellate court sat as an error-correcting court deciding the merits of the case and that an indigent defendant was ill-equipped to represent himself on direct appeal.

Felix: Petition does not "relate back."

In Mayle v. Felix, No. 04-563 (U.S. June 23, 2005), the Supreme Court, in another AEDPA statute of limitations case, ruled that Rule 15(c)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows an amended pleading filed after the running of the statute of limitations to relate back to the filing date of the original pleading where the original and amended pleading "arise out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence," does not apply where the amended pleading asserts a new ground for relief supported by facts that differ in both time and type from those set forth in the original pleading. Mr. Felix was convicted of murder and robbery in California state court and sentenced to life. His conviction was affirmed on appeal and became final on August 12, 1997. Under the one-year AEDPA statute of limitations, he had until August 12, 1998 to file a federal habeas petition. He timely filed a pro se habeas petition in federal district court on May 8, 1998 in which he raised a Confrontation Clause challenge to the admission of a videotape recording of testimony of a prosecution witness. The court appointed counsel to represent Mr. Felix and on January 28, 1999, counsel filed an amendment to the habeas petition raising a Fifth Amendment challenge to the admission of statements made by Mr. Felix during a pretrial police interrogation claiming that the statements were coerced. Although the amended claim was filed after the one-year statute of limitations, Mr. Felix claimed that the amended claim related back to his timely-filed petition under Rule 15(c)(2) since both claims dealt with the unconstitutional admission of out-of-court statements during the prosecutor's case-in-chief. Reversing the Ninth Circuits' holding that the "transaction" for Rule 15(c)(2) purposes was Mr. Felix's criminal trial, the Supreme Court ruled that such a reading obliterates the statute of limitations. The Court ruled that relation back under Rule 15(c)(2) depends on the existence of a common core of operative facts uniting the original and newly asserted claim. Here, the Court found no such common core of operative facts.