The Absolute NECESSITY of Filing State Court Pleadings on Time or, How One Federal Habeas Petitioner Got Screwed Before He Even Filed. Daniel L. Crowe v. Warden of Perry Correctional, 2016 WL446638 (filed 2/5/16).
This case vividly illustrates the draconian and, frankly, unfair, consequences of time limitations set out in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) that governs federal habeas cases. Petitioner here, Daniel Crowe of Oconee County, SC was convicted of murder in 1998 and sentenced to life in prison. His appellate lawyer raised one issue on appeal, and his appeal was ultimately denied. The appeal essentially became final on August 7, 2000 when the remittitur was issued. Petitioner then, it appears, retained PCR counsel, and that attorney filed an application for PCR on August 21, 2001 (1 year and 14 days after the remittitur was issued). As lawyers and criminal defendants in South Carolina know (or need to know), a PCR application must be filed within 1 year after the entry of judgment of conviction or within one year after the sending of the remittitur to the lower court from an appeal or the filing of the final decision upon an appeal, whichever is later. SC Code Ann. §17-27-45. In other words, FOURTEEN DAYS EARLIER. That’s it, folks. 14 days.
The PCR judge denied the PCR application in 2004 because it was “untimely” (Note irony of order dismissing application due to “untimeliness” 1181 days after application filed 14 days late). Federal habeas proceedings are only tolled when a state PCR is “timely” filed. Therefore, Crowe’s one year habeas statute of limitations continued to run and expired on October 18, 2001 (after direct appeal, 1 year + 90 days during which a petitioner can seek SCOTUS review). Petitioner tried two more times to file state PCR actions to have his claims heard, but they were summarily dismissed for “untimeliness.” PCR counsel never appealed the judge’s denial of the petition due to the mere 14 day delay (as he should have).
So, how does an inmate doing life in prison get anyone to review his claims after his direct appeal is over? Well, normally an inmate has the state remedy of PCR and then may pursue his claims in federal court by way of a habeas corpus petition. But when, as here, you have an ineffective PCR lawyer who does not file on time, it can mean that an inmate loses BOTH remedies. And to make matters worse, there is abundant case law that holds that “simple negligence” on the part of a lawyer is not sufficient to entitle the petitioner to “equitable tolling” of the habeas statute of limitations. What is an inmate to do then? Well, nothing. “Unfortunately, Supreme Court precedent compels this Court to find that there is no remedy available on such facts.” 2016 WL446628 *3. So, Mr. Crowe will continue to serve his life sentence without any post-conviction review of the merits of his claims, state or federal, because he unwisely selected PCR counsel who did not recognize the importance of filing his application on time.