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Evidentiary Hearing Ordered For AEDPA Equitable Tolling Claim Arising From Transfer to Out-Of-State Prison

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the U.S. District Court (D. Ore.) to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine if ample facts supported two Oregon state prisoners? claims that their involuntary transfers to Arizona prisons amounted to ?extraordinary circumstances? that entitled them to equitable tolling of the one-year AEDPA time limitation (28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)).

Albert Roy and Phillip Kephart were Oregon state prisoners whose federal habeas corpus petitions challenging their convictions had been dismissed by the U.S. District (D. Ore.) court as untimely under the AEDPA (Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act). They filed additional habeas petitions in the U.S. District Court (D. Ariz.) when they found themselves transferred to a prison in Florence, Arizona which they claimed had such a woefully deficient law library that it prevented them from pursuing challenges to their convictions. Both Roy and Kephart were transferred back to Oregon after about four months, but they claimed that this period should be tolled (i.e., not debited) from their one-year AEDPA filing limit because the lack of an adequate law library was a debilitating ?extraordinary circumstance? beyond their control.

Under established Ninth Circuit case law, the one-year AEDPA period is tolled whenever one is actively exhausting state court remedies, but the ?clock? runs at all times between such actions. For both Roy and Kephart, their one-year allotment had been only partially consumed when they found themselves relocated to Arizona. For each, if the time spent in Arizona had been deducted from their AEDPA budget calculations, their petitions would have been timely.

Equitable tolling is available only ?if extraordinary circumstances beyond a prisoner?s control make it impossible to file a petition on time.? Moreover, the ?circumstances must be the cause of [the] untimeliness.? Spytsin v. Moore, 345 F.3d 796, 799 (9th Cir. 2003). A habeas petitioner should receive an evidentiary hearing if he makes ?a good-faith allegation that would, if true, entitle him to equitable tolling.? Laws v. Lamarque, 351 F.3d 919 (9th Cir. 2003). Additionally, Roy and Kephart had to demonstrate that they had been pursuing their rights diligently.

The fact that both were proceeding pro se would not alone warrant equitable tolling. But both prisoners complained formally that the Arizona prison law library was so deficient as to prevent their prosecuting their petitions. Kephart alleged that it ?consisted of only three outdated legal books, which contained no information on the AEDPA.? Roy filed a lawsuit against the prison for not having ?an Oregon trained legal assistant and a current adequate Oregon law library.?

The Ninth Circuit observed that Roy and Kephart had been actively pursuing their cases in Oregon courts before their unexpected transfers.
Thus, their claimed ?impediment? to timeliness was not simply a pretext for lack of diligence. The Ninth Circuit did not decide the case on the merits because there were visible conflicts in the parties? affidavits. But at the very least, the appellate court held that Roy and Kephart were entitled to an evidentiary hearing to resolve the conflicts, followed by a fair ruling on equitable tolling. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit granted their Arizona petition and remanded to the Oregon district court for a hearing and further determination. See: Roy v. Lampert, 465 F.3d 964 (9th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Roy v. Lampert