Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Court rules against death row inmate

February 20, 2007


Court rules against death row inmate

PETE YOST, Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a Florida death row
prisoner lost an opportunity to challenge his conviction in the federal
court system because he missed a one-year filing deadline.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices sided with the state of Florida against
inmate Gary Lawrence, who faces execution for murdering a man who had moved
in with Lawrence's wife.

Under the federal Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,
death row inmates have one year after a conviction becomes final in state
courts to petition the federal system to review the case.

Lawrence's lawyers say they stopped the clock from running on the state's
one-year time limit by petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court. A majority of the
court rejected that argument.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the language of the
law is clear and that the approach favored by lawyers for the death row
inmate "would provide incentives for state prisoners to file ... as a delay
tactic ... regardless of the merit of the claims asserted."

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said rejecting Lawrence's arguments
is "neither a necessary nor a proper interpretation" of the law.

Lawyers for the state of Florida had argued that Lawrence's request to the
Supreme Court did not suspend the one-year deadline in effect in the state.
Therefore, state attorneys argued, Lawrence's subsequent habeas petition
seeking review of his conviction in U.S. District Court in the northern
district of Florida was nearly four months too late.

In the Supreme Court, Lawrence's attorney argued that his previous lawyer
made a mistake in miscalculating the deadline and that the death row inmate
should therefore be entitled to pursue the case in the federal courts.

"Attorney miscalculation is simply not sufficient to warrant" suspending the
deadline, Thomas wrote.

The case is Lawrence v. Florida, 05-8820.

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