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Name: Christeson v. Roper
Case #: 14-6873
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 01/20/2015

Defendant is entitled to conflict-free counsel to argue for equitable tolling of AEDPA where his appointed attorneys missed his filing deadline. Petitioner was convicted of three counts of murder and sentenced to death. The State (Missouri) affirmed judgment on direct appeal and denied post conviction motions for relief. His federal writ petition was due by April 10, 2005 under AEDPA’s statute of limitations (28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)). Nine months before the deadline, attorneys were appointed to represent petitioner in federal proceedings; they failed to meet with him until six weeks after the deadline for filing and filed his petition 117 days too late. The district court dismissed the petition as untimely and the federal appellate court denied a certificate of appealability. Years later the attorneys sought advice on how to proceed with petitioner’s case. After they were told a motion to reopen the case could be filed based on their malfeasance in failing to timely file defendant’s petition, the attorneys denied outside counsel access to their files. On two occasions, outside counsels’ motion to substitute counsel was denied. Appeals to the Eighth Circuit were unsuccessful. The Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Reversed in per curiam opinion. A motion for substitution of appointed counsel should be granted when it is in the interests of justice. The district court erred in failing to acknowledge appointed counsels’ conflict of interest—they could not be expected to present the equitable tolling claim based on their own misconduct. In fact, appointed counsels’ response to the district court regarding the substitution motion characterized the proposed tolling argument as “ludicrous,” stating they had a “legal basis and rationale” for erroneously calculating the petition’s due date. This was contrary to their client’s interest and is the type of conflict warranting substitution of counsel. (See Martel v. Clair (2012) 565 U.S. __.)