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Maryland Adopts Prison Mailbox Rule for Post-Conviction Petitions

On May 9, 2018, the Maryland Court of Appeals adopted a “prison mailbox rule” for post-conviction petitions.

The need for such a rule became evident in the case of prisoner Thoyt Hackney, who gave a post-conviction relief motion to prison officials three days before a statutory ten-year filing deadline. Two days later, they mailed the petition to the circuit court. It arrived and was date-stamped by the clerk one day late; the circuit court rejected the petition as untimely and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed.

After finding that prisoners have no control over the mailing of their pleadings once they are given to prison staff, the Court of Appeals held that henceforth, “an unrepresented prisoner is deemed to have filed his or her post-conviction petition at the moment the prisoner formally delivers it to prison authorities for forwarding to the circuit court.”

The Court noted that “For many of us, the rapid advancement of technology has relegated the ordinary postal system – colloquially referred to as ‘snail mail’ – to an option of last resort. For others, it is not entirely a thing of the past. The physical mail delivery system provides an important avenue of access to the courts for those who do not or cannot, for one reason or another, use electronic mail, electronic filing systems, or the Internet at large.”

As this was an “application of new interpretations of constitutional provisions, statutes, or rules,” the Court’s detailed ruling was applied to Hackney’s case and “all other pending cases where the relevant question has to be preserved for appellate review.”

The Court of Appeals left the particulars of the “prison mailbox rule” to its rulemaking process, but pointed to rules from the Georgia Supreme Court as a possible framework. Hackney’s petition was ordered to be accepted as timely filed. See: Hackney v. State, 459 Md. 108, 184 A.3d 414 (Md. 2018). 


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Related legal case

Hackney v. State