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Criminal Practice – Defendant Can’t Show ‘Extraordinary Circumstances’

Moses v. Joyner (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-050-16, 15 pp.) (Wilkinson, J.)) No. 15-2, March 8, 2016; USDC at Greensboro, N.C. (Schroeder, J.) 4th Cir.

Holding: A defendant convicted of the drug-related first-degree murder of two men in 1997 cannot overturn a district court’s denial of his Rule 60(b)(6) motion for relief from judgment as untimely; the 4th Circuit upholds denial of his motion filed years after the court imposed two death sentences.

Defendant also contends the trial court erred in concluding that the change in post-conviction procedural default rules fashioned in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S. Ct. 1309 (2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S. Ct. 1911 (2012), did not constitute the kind of “extraordinary circumstance” needed to reopen his case.

In Martinez, the Supreme Court held that a procedural default under state law will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel (IATC) claim if a prisoner’s attorney ineffectively failed to raise the IATC claim in the initial state collateral proceedings. Trevino extended the Martinez exception to the customary rules of procedural default to cases in which state procedure did not require a petitioner to raise an ineffectiveness claim initially on collateral review but nonetheless made it “highly unlikely” that a criminal defendant would have a meaningful opportunity to raise that claim on direct appeal.

The district court held that defendant’s motion was untimely under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c), but that a change in habeas decisional law, without more, is an insufficient basis for 60(b)(6) relief.

We can hardly fault the district court for an abuse of discretion in ruling that defendant’s delay was well beyond the bounds of reasonableness set forth in Rule 60(c). Courts have ruled Martinez-based 60(b) motions untimely in cases involving shorter delays than that present here, well over two years after Martinez and a year after Trevino. The court rejects defendant’s claim that the starting point for the timeliness inquiry was set by Fowler v. Joyner, 753 F.3d 446 (4th Cir. 2014).

Further, defendant’s motion for relief invoking the Martinez change in procedural default rules falls well short of “extraordinary.” In fact, defendant’s ground for reopening judgment under 60(b)(6) is not extraordinary for the same reasons the motion in Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524 (2005), was not extraordinary. The law on this issue reflects an admirable consistency, as the decisions of other circuits attest.

This case long ago reached the point of churning procedures without prospect of practical effect.

Judgment affirmed.

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