Supreme Court takes on inmate's challenge on evidence deadline

  • Article by: ADAM LIPTAK , New York Times News Service
  • Updated: February 26, 2013 - 12:18 AM

Inmate argues new evidence of innocence outweighs time limits for requesting hearing.

 

– Floyd Perkins, a Michigan man serving a life sentence for murder, says he has evidence proving his innocence and should be allowed to present it long after the passage of a one-year filing deadline.

The Supreme Court has never resolved whether such deadlines may be waived when prisoners file federal habeas corpus challenges to state-court convictions based on evidence of innocence. Judging from the justices’ questions on Monday in Perkins’ case, their eventual decision is not likely to bring much additional clarity to the situation.

There was some support from the bench for the abstract proposition that deadlines ought not be too rigid. But there was less sympathy for Perkins himself.

Perkins was convicted based largely on the testimony of Damarr Jones, who said he saw Perkins stab a third man in the head in 1993 after the three of them left a house party in Flint, Mich. The third man, Rodney Henderson, was found dead.

Perkins testified that he had parted from the other two men before the killing and later saw his accuser, bloody and agitated. The jury believed Jones.

Over the years, from behind bars, Perkins collected three sworn statements from people who said they had evidence that Jones was the killer. Even though Perkins obtained the last statement in 2002, he did not ask a federal judge to throw out his conviction until 2008. The judge refused, saying it had been filed too late and that, in any event, the statements were just an elaboration of a theme the jury had rejected — that Perkins “was being framed by the prosecution’s lead witness, who himself was responsible for the murder.”

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati, reversed the part of the ruling concerning the deadline and ordered the trial judge to take another look at the evidence.

Racial remarks case rejected

The court declined to hear a case concerning racially charged remarks at trial by a federal prosecutor in Texas. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, wrote that the decision not to hear the case, Calhoun v. United States, No. 12-6142, had been correct, as the defendant’s lawyer had not objected to the remarks.

A question in the case was whether the defendant knew that his companions were planning to buy drugs. The prosecutor said the circumstances should have made that plain. “You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money,” he said. “Doesn’t that tell you … ‘This is a drug deal?’ ”

Sotomayor wrote that this statement “was pernicious in its attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence, and racial prejudice for reason.”

“I hope,” she wrote, “never to see a case like this again.”

She wrote separately, she said, to dispel any doubt about the Supreme Court’s tolerance of such comments.

Corporate contributions

The court decided Monday against reviewing the century-old ban on corporations making direct contributions to federal candidates. The court without comment declined to hear an appeal from two men who said the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on elections, must also nullify the ban on campaign contributions.

 

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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