Federal Appeals



Supreme Court to hear Calif. case on deadline for federal appeal
By MASON STOCKSTILL, Associated Press Writer - (Published April 25, 2004)

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case Monday involving a former police officer convicted of murder who claims his rights were violated when he wasn't advised of a deadline for filing a federal appeal.
The time limit was established in 1996 by the federal Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which attorneys said has kept many prisoners from challenging their convictions.

It gives defendants one year to file a federal appeal after they have exhausted all state legal challenges.

Prosecutors said former officer Richard Herman Ford and another defendant were paid $20,000 by the victim's ex-wife to commit the killing.

Ford was convicted in 1988. Nine years later, he filed a federal appeal alleging his rights were violated when improper evidence was used during the investigation and trial. The habeas corpus petition was submitted five days before the end of the one-year federal limit on such actions.

Months later, it was rebuffed on procedural grounds by a U.S. District Court magistrate, who gave Ford two options: alter his petition to meet the legal requirements, or allow it to be dismissed and then refile at a later date.

Ford chose to refile but said he wasn't advised the deadline had already passed by that time.

"The second option was basically no option," said Lisa Bassis, his attorney. "He was misled."

Ford challenged the dismissal, and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him. The state of California appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The time limit was enacted to curb lengthy appeals by death row inmates trying to stall their execution. Ford is not facing the death penalty.

Many prisoners have lost the chance to argue their rights were violated because they couldn't complete the complicated filing process by the deadline, said Todd Maybrown, a Seattle attorney who has lectured and written articles on the issue.

"Probably thousands of people, or even more than that, are getting dinged out of court very promptly because they're beyond the one-year limit," Maybrown said.

In Ford's case, the state argued that requiring the court to advise petitioners about the limitation period is an excessive burden. Ford also attempted to use an improper delay tactic to get around the deadline, said state Deputy Attorney General Paul Roadarmel.

While filing the federal appeal, Ford asked the court to stop the clock on the one-year deadline while he continued his legal fight in state court. It's a common tactic but subverts the intent of the act, which was designed to speed up the process, Roadarmel said.

San Francisco attorney Clifford Gardner, who has studied the statute, said the Supreme Court would probably not address whether the delaying tactic was improper, and would focus only on the legality of the deadline.

It's unlikely the justices will issue a ruling that goes beyond that question, he said.

The case is Pliler v. Ford, 03-221. 

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