Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Late IPA Filing Not Excused By Good Cause, Manifest Injustice

US v. Cowley: Cowley was found guilty of firearm, drug, and witness possession crimes arising from the 1998 shooting of a drug dealer in West Virginia and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Among the evidence presented at trial was testimony that Cowley was seen with the same gun the drug dealer's son had identified as the murder weapon (he saw the shooting, but the attackers were masked). Cowley's convictions and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal and during 2255 proceedings, which concluded in 2006. In 2014, Cowley filed a motion seeking DNA testing under the Innocence Protection Act (18 USC 3600), seeking testing of various items from the crime scene including shell casings, clothing, and blood stains. He also provided affidavits from eight witnesses that bolstered the alibi defense he unsuccessfully used at trial and identified four others as responsible for the murder. The district court denied Cowley's motion because it wasn't timely filed.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Cowley's IPA motion. It did so on the merits, however, rejecting the Government's argument that Cowley was required to get a Certificate of Appealability (as in a 2255 proceeding) before the court had jurisdiction to hear the appeal. On the merits, the court noted that the IPA has ten requirements that must be me to grant a motion, the last of which is that it is "made in a timely fashion, subject to" what the court called "certain rebuttable presumptions." The IPA creates a rebuttable presumption if a motion is filed within either three years of a final conviction or five years of the IPA's enactment in 2004. Cowley's conviction was final before the IPA was passed, so his deadline was October 2009 - five years before he filed his motion. Cowley argued that two of the IPA's exceptions excused his untimely filing - that the he had good cause for the delay and that denying his motion "would result in a manifest injustice." The court concluded that neither exception applied. It rejected Cowley's argument that he had good cause because he had been incarcerated and without counsel for the years between the passage of the IPA and his filing, holding that given the nature of the statute incarceration couldn't be good cause. On the manifest injustice exception the court held that Cowley could have obtained the "new" evidence he presented before trial and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Cowley failed to show that any injustice would be "unmistakable, clear, plain, or indisputable."