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Actual Innocence as a Gateway through the Statute-of-Limitations Bar on the Filing of Federal Habeas Corpus Petitions

Limin Zheng
California Law Review
Vol. 90, No. 6 (Dec., 2002), pp. 2101-2141
DOI: 10.2307/3481440
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3481440
Page Count: 41
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Actual Innocence as a Gateway through the Statute-of-Limitations Bar on the Filing of Federal Habeas Corpus Petitions
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Abstract

Since the founding period, a prisoner's right to petition for inquiry into the legality of his incarceration has been an essential check on the abusive exercise of state power. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (the "AEDPA") imposed, for the first time in the nation's history, a statute-of-limitations bar to the filing of federal habeas corpus petitions. As a result, an innocent prisoner who was convicted through an unconstitutional process and who has never before filed a federal habeas corpus petition can be barred from seeking federal habeas corpus review solely because a one-year statute of limitations has expired. This Comment argues that the statute of limitations unduly restricts access to federal habeas corpus review while failing to serve the AEDPA's stated purpose of curtailing frivolous and abusive petitions. This Comment proposes that courts recognize and apply the doctrine of actual innocence as an equitable exception to the AEDPA's statute of limitations. The Comment explains why both policy concerns and precedent support construing the AEDPA's statute-of-limitations provision to allow a state prisoner to bring his time-barred constitutional claims for federal habeas corpus review upon a showing of actual innocence. Further, the Comment argues that courts, in evaluating the validity of an actual-innocence claim, should apply the probability standard articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Schlup v. Delo.

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