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Court Helps Some Inmates Appeal

November 7, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court sided Tuesday against prosecutors who claimed that a New York man imprisoned for firing at a police car waited too long to challenge his conviction in federal court.

In a unanimous decision, the justices upheld a lower court ruling that the inmate, Tony Bruce Bennett, had pressed his legal claims properly.

The opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, does not mean the court agreed with Bennett that his rights were violated at the time of his 1984 conviction for attempted murder and other offenses.

Instead, it means Bennett may go ahead with his claim in federal court.

It may also mean that other inmates have an easier time establishing their right to sue in federal court, because the court has clarified some procedural steps that inmates must follow. Jailhouse lawyers and outside advocates for inmates have complained that state authorities often reject inmate filings on technical procedural grounds.

New York prosecutors claimed that Bennett’s previous appeal in state court was not ``properly filed″ because it did not meet important procedural tests.

That meant the clock was running on a deadline to file a separate federal appeal once his state claims were over, prosecutors said.

Rejecting that logic, Scalia wrote that prosecutors were blurring the plain meanings of words such as ``filed.″

``An application is ‘filed,’ as that term is commonly understood, when it is delivered to and accepted by the appropriate court officer for placement into the official record,″ Scalia wrote.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the New York prosecutors argued that the 2nd Circuit court’s ruling would allow the federal deadline to be delayed by ``almost any piece of paper″ filed as a state appeal, regardless of whether it complied with state law.

Bennett’s lawyer said state courts can head off such appeals.

The case is Artuz v. Bennett, 99-1238.


On the Net:

For the appeals court ruling: http://www.uscourts.gov./links.html and click on 2nd Circuit.

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