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U.S. Supreme Court

Prisoner Loses Mistaken Deadline Appeal

Posted Jun 14, 2007 11:34 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A convicted murderer who filed his appeal before an erroneous deadline set by a federal judge cannot get a hearing on his habeas claims, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today.

The judge's mistake didn't alter the time limit set by federal law, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a majority of five justices. Because the time limit is jurisdictional in nature, courts have no authority to hear the appeal, he said.

"Because Congress decides whether federal courts can hear cases at all, it can also determine when,and under what conditions, federal courts can hear them," he wrote.

The court ruled in the case of Keith Bowles, convicted of felony murder for a group beating of an unarmed man, Associated Press reports.

A district court had granted his motion to extend the time for filing an appeal, mistakenly saying Bowles had until Feb. 27 to file. The actual deadline permitted by law was Feb. 24, and Bowles missed it by two days, according to a summary of the pending case by Duke Law.

Writing in dissent, Judge David H. Souter said the court should grant an exception to the time limit. "It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch," he said.

The opinion is Bowles v. Russell, No. 06–5306.

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