A man who may be locked up for a murder he did not commit should not be allowed to challenge his conviction, according to Justice Antonin Scalia and his three most conservative colleagues. And three members of the Supreme Court seem to believe that most people jailed due to unconstitutional convictions should have no recourse to the federal courts. At least, that’s what emerges from a four justice dissenting opinion written by Scalia in a case dealing with the rights of state prisoners who may be “actually innocent” of the crime they were convicted of committing.
McQuiggin v. Perkins is a fairly unusual case. After being
sentenced to life in prison for murder, Floyd Perkins spent years
gathering three affidavits from witnesses corroborating his claim that
another man committed the crime. Yet he sat on this new evidence for
nearly six years before presenting it to a federal court. Justice
Scalia’s dissent claims that a one year statute of limitations prevents
Perkins from presenting six year-old evidence that he may be innocent.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion holds that “actual
innocence” may overcome this one year time limit, although she also
requires prisoners in Perkins’ shoes to overcome a very high bar before
their claims of innocence may succeed in federal court.