Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Golden Ticket for Mark Christeson

Jason Mazzone

Every now and then, in the style of a papal dispensation, the Supreme Court sets aside the normal rules to give a measure of relief to somebody screwed by the system. Today's lucky golden ticket winner is Mark Christeson, a state death row inmate who sought to file a federal habeas petition but whose lawyers didn't get around to contacting him until six weeks after the one-year AEDPA deadline had passed. After the district court dismissed the petition as untimely, Christeson sought to substitute new counsel to argue that equitable tolling was warranted but the district court denied that application also. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Today, in a per curiam opinion the Supreme Court reversed, holding that substitution of counsel was warranted under the circumstances of the case (the original lawyers could not have been expected to argue equitable tolling where the delay was a result of their own error) so as to be able to pursue the equitable tolling claim. Even if Christeson wins on the equitable tolling argument, he might still lose on the merits of the habeas petition. So the golden ticket might serve only to delay the inevitable. But delay is no small victory in a capital case.  

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