Equitable Tolling | Section 2255 Statute of Limitations

Habeas corpus practice under section 2255 is based on statutory law, but governed by equitable principles. One principle of equity that survived the section 2255 statute of limitations imposed pursuant to the AEDPA is the concept of equitable tolling. See Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631 (2010)(The one-year section 2255 statute of limitations in AEDPA is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling). This article discusses equitable tolling in the context of section 2255 statute of limitations.

How Do You Define Equitable Tolling?

According to the Tenth Edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, equitable tolling is, “A court’s discretionary extension of a legal deadline as a result of extraordinary circumstances that prevented one from complying despite reasonable diligence throughout the period before the equitable tolling, section 2255 statute of limitationsdeadline passed.” This is the same definition used by the courts in the section 2255 statute of limitations context.

Whether a movant who missed the section 2255 statute of limitations and claims equitable tolling will be allowed to proceed is a factual question. As such, the court may hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether a movant exercised reasonable diligence, and whether the preventative obstacle amounts to an extraordinary circumstance. Movants should note at the outset that courts set the bar for a showing of reasonable diligence and extraordinary circumstances very high.

What Are Extraordinary Circumstances for the Purposes of Waiving the Section 2255 Statute of Limitations?

Extraordinary circumstances tend to be just that- — extraordinary. Courts have found that both judicial and governmental interference with the timely filing of the motion constitute extraordinary circumstances. See Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225 (2004)(O’Connor, J., concurring). The mental incompetence of the movant qualifies, as does actual innocence. Reasonable reliance on then-binding circuit precedent (Sherwood v. Prelesnik, 579 F.3d 581 (6th Cir. 2009)) and counsel’s serious errors or misconduct (Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631 (2010)) may also constitute extraordinary circumstances.

There are many circumstances that will not be found to be extraordinary enough to permit equitable tolling. The movant or his attorney’s error or excusable neglect are not enough. Holland, 560 U.S. at 651-52. The movant’s ignorance of the law or reliance on a jailhouse lawyer will not suffice either. Nor will the fact of a movant’s incarceration. United States v. Wynn, 292 F.3d 226 (5th Cir. 2002).

What Part Does Reasonable Diligence Have in the Waiving of  Section 2255 Statute of Limitations?

Even if the movant can demonstrate extraordinary circumstances, courts will not permit equitable tolling in the absence of reasonable diligence. This is because “[i]f the person seeking equitable tolling has not exercised reasonable diligence in attempting to file after the extraordinary circumstances began, the link of causation between the extraordinary circumstances and the failure to file is broken, and the extraordinary circumstances therefore did not prevent timely filing.” Valverde v. Stinson, 224 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000). The Ninth Circuit has said that about thirty days after elimination of the roadblock should be sufficient. Guillory v. Roe, 329 F.3d 1015, 1018, n. 2 (9th Cir. 2003).

Do Not Rely on Equitable Tolling for Purposes of Waiving Section 2255 Statute of Limitations

Equitable tolling is available in the section 2255 statute of limitations context. It is, however, very difficult to obtain. As such, one should never rely on it for a timely filing. As recently as 2006, the Seventh Circuit indicated that it had “yet to identify a circumstance that justifies equitable tolling in the collateral relief context.” Poe v. United States, 468 F.3d 473, 476 (7th Cir. 2006).

Attorneys Experienced with Section 2255 Statute of Limitations and Equitable Tolling Matters

If you or a loved one are late in filing a section 2255 motion, we can help you pursue equitable tolling. Our experienced attorneys understand the nuances of equity in habeas corpus practice. Contact us now for competent assistance with your section 2255 motion. Call us today at 802-444-4357.

Equitable Tolling and Section 2255 Statute of Limitations FAQs

Q: What is equitable tolling?

A: Equitable tolling is a court’s discretionary extension of a deadline, provided when a litigant was prevented from complying with the deadline despite legitimate efforts to do so.  The concept of equitable tolling is based on notions of fairness and equity.

Q: Does equitable tolling apply to section 2255 motions?

A: Yes, in limited circumstances. If a section 2255 movant has missed a deadline, such as the statute of limitations, the court may allow for equitable tolling if the movant can show reasonable diligence and extraordinary circumstances.

Q: What are some examples of extraordinary circumstances that might permit equitable tolling?

A: Intentional interference with the litigant’s attempt to file by a judge or the government is an extraordinary circumstance.  Actual innocence and counsel’s serious errors or misconduct also constitute extraordinary circumstances. Note, however, that mere “excusable neglect” on the part of defense counsel is not extraordinary enough.

Q: What is reasonable diligence?

A: Reasonable diligence  means that the section 2255 movant has actually tried to comply with the deadline, but was unable to do so

Q: I have missed the one-year statute of limitations, but still want to file a section 2255 motion. May I?

A: If extraordinary circumstances prevented you from filing within the prescribed timeframe, you may be able to argue equitable tolling in order to proceed. Contact us today for a consultation. Our experienced section 2255 attorneys will help you understand and file your claim.

Related Content

You Must be “In Custody” to File a Section 2255 Motion

Section 2255 Motions: The Statute of Limitations

Actual Innocence Can Overcome the Section 2255 Statute of Limitations

Section 2255(f)(1): A Newly Recognized Right Restarts the One-Year Clock

Section 2255(f)(4): Newly Discovered Evidence Restarts the One-Year Clock

Section 2255 Exhaustion Issues