U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Waiting Two-and-a-Half Years to File Motion Is Untimely, Fourth Cir. Rules

Motion practice can often be a very fast-paced and harrowing experience, particularly when someone's life or livelihood hangs in the balance. In motion practice, timing is everything.

So what would you say to a defendant who waited two and a half years to file a motion for relief from judgment after the court handed down a decision? You'd say that was an unjustified wait, right? We're glad you agree. That's how the Fourth Circuit ruled in Moses v. Carlton Joyner.

Procedural Nightmare

Errol Moses followed his victim on the night of November 25, 1995 to follow up on a drug deal and killed victim-Griffin by shooting him. He then later murdered again. A jury quickly sentenced him to two death sentences, and SCOTUS denied cert. He later filed a "Motion for Appropriate Relief" (MAR) in the trial court alleging that he was deprived of his right to effective counsel

What follows is a procedural nightmare. Moses filed a habeas petition in federal court and reasserted his Sixth Amendment claims. A magistrate judge later concluded that Moses failed to exhaust all avenues of his remedies. Moses attempted to race with the federal court and filed a second MAR at the state court level, hoping to cure these issues. He failed. The district court adopted the magistrate's advice and rejected his motion; and SCOTUS again denied cert.

He filed yet another MAR in state court and he later petitioned North Carolina's Supreme Court for review. This procedure went on for some time. Whomever was Moses's attorney at this time, he was very dedicated.

Meanwhile, in March of 2012, SCOTUS held in Martinez that a procedural default under state law doesn't bar a bad-counsel claim if the initial attorney failed to raise the issue in the first proceedings. Makes sense, after all -- if the attorney is really ineffective, how can you not be allowed to claim he's a bad lawyer? Martinez was later clarified in a case called Trevino.

Inexplicably, Moses waited 2.5 years after Martinez was decided before he filed yet his latest MAR under FRCP Rule 60(b) -- even though he had been on a motion tear since day one and even though Martinez was directly on point. He'd waiting fifteen months before filing his motion despite the clarification in Trevino.

Boiled Down

The district court held that Moses's motion was untimely Under FRCP Rule 60. But even if it hadn't been untimely, a closer reading of Martinez would have revealed that a change in habeas decisional law, without extraordinary circumstances, would be insufficient to grant habeas relief.

Upon review of the facts, the Fourth Circuit just could not understand what possessed Moses -- who'd been taking full advantage of the motion procedure of the courts -- to wait a whole two and a half years to seek further relief. After all, the court reminded him, Rule 60(b) requires that motions "be made within a reasonable time." Two and a half years is a bit of a stretch.

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