Recently the Supreme Court issued a nasty opinion against states seeking dismissal of "untimely" federal habeas corpus petitions.
In HOLLAND v. FLORIDA, No. 09-5327. Argued March 1, 2010--Decided June 14, 2010, the Court held that a state petitioner seeking federal habeas corpus relief under 28 USC 2254 is entitled to equitable tolling if he satisfies two criteria: (1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way" and prevented timely filing.
The Holland Court explained several prior Supreme Court cases for support of their holding, citing the following: Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U. S. 408, 418. Such "extraordinary circumstances" are not limited to those that satisfy the Eleventh Circuit's test. Courts must often "exercise [their] equity powers ... on a case-by-case basis," Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U. S. 360, 375, demonstrating "flexibility" and avoiding "mechanical rules," Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U. S. 392, 396, in order to "relieve hardships ... aris[ing] from a hard and fast adherence" to more absolute legal rules, Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v. Hartford-Empire Co., 322 U. S. 238, 248. The Court's cases recognize that equity courts can and do draw upon decisions made in other similar cases for guidance, exercising judgment in light of precedent, but with awareness of the fact that specific circumstances, often hard to predict, could warrant special treatment in an appropriate case.
Many state and federal habeas corpus petitioners face an uphill battle when reseraching and preparing their petitions. Most are pro-se and done wthout the benefit of counsel. Reliance is placed on prison law clerks and the limited resources available inside. Most often the habeas corpus petitioner was not informed of the timeline necessary to file a timely petition. Most attorneys withdraw from a case when an appeal is complete and at that point the petitioner is flying solo, usually with a blindfold on.
Now those petitioners have a fighting chance to have their issues heard rather than face summary dismissal on untimeliness grounds.
The full opinions is available at http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=09-5327