But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined with the court’s liberal wing in ruling 5 to 4 that barring someone who has a credible claim of innocence from filing a habeas petition would be a miscarriage of justice.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote for the majority, stressed that such instances would be rare. “The miscarriage of justice exception, we underscore, applies to a severely confined category: cases in which new evidence shows it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted” the petitioner, she wrote.
Besides Kennedy, Ginsburg was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a blistering dissent for his fellow conservatives. He said that Congress was specific in writing the one-year limitation into the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and that the court’s exception was “a flagrant breach of the separation of powers.”
“One would have thought it too obvious to mention that this court is duty bound to enforce AEDPA, not amend it,” wrote Scalia, who was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Ginsburg wrote that evidence of innocence is a “gateway” through which a prisoner may overcome procedural bars to the filing of habeas petitions. But she and the majority made it clear that it may not provide much of a clearing for the man who brought the case to the court.
Floyd Perkins of Michigan was sentenced to life in prison in 1993 for the gruesome murder of his friend Rodney Henderson. Testimony showed that Perkins had told someone else that he intended to kill Henderson and later apologized for the murder. But at his trial, Perkins blamed the killing on a third man who was with them.
Without new evidence, Perkins had only a year under the law to make a federal claim that his attorney had inadequately assisted him. Perkins gathered three affidavits over the years — from his sister, a friend and a dry-cleaning clerk — that he said helped show his innocence. But he did not file his petition until five years after obtaining the third of those statements.
Ginsburg said courts could note such a delay in deciding whether a claim of innocence is credible. She noted that the district judge in Perkins’s case found the evidence he offered inadequate to make the case that no reasonable juror would have convicted him.
The court sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which had said Perkins’s petition could go forward, with the observation that “absent cause which we do not currently see,” the district judge’s evaluation of Perkins’s evidence is probably “dispositive.”