The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) established a one-year statute of limitations for an inmate to file for federal habeas review after the completion of the direct appeal and the state collateral review process. Because AEDPA’s statute of limitations is complex, many petitioners for federal habeas miss the deadline and, with it, their opportunity to have criminal convictions (including death penalty convictions) reviewed in federal court. This Essay examines the law that governs when and how the statutory deadline might be tolled should a habeas petitioner miss it due to his lawyer’s errors. The Essay first looks at the Holland v. Florida doctrine, which outlines a petitioner’s avenue to equitable relief when his lawyer has failed to meet the AEDPA deadline. The Essay argues that ever since the Supreme Court decided a similar but technically unrelated issue in Maples v. Thomas, lower courts have unjustly restricted the relief offered in Holland to instances in which a lawyer completely severs her agency relationship with her client. The Essay then analyzes the lawyer-client relationship under an equitable theory of agency law to argue that postconviction clients are too often burdened with the mistakes of their lawyers when courts adhere to a formalistic application of agency doctrine. The Essay proposes an alternative, basic negligence standard for determining when a postconviction client ought to suffer the burden of his lawyer’s errors. This standard would better align the law of postconviction relief with the fundamental principles of agency law that undergird the lawyer-client relationship.

 

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