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Supreme Court to Hear Calif. Appeal Case

April 25, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A former police officer convicted of murder is arguing in an appeal that has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that his rights were violated because he was never told there is a deadline for filing a federal appeal.

The 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act gives defendants one year to file a federal appeal after they have exhausted all state legal challenges.

Attorneys said that has kept many prisoners from challenging convictions, and on Monday the Supreme Court is to hear the case of Richard Herman Ford, a former Los Angeles police officer who was convicted of murdering a man. Prosecutors said he and another defendant were paid $20,000 by the victim’s ex-wife to commit the killing.

Ford was convicted in 1988. Nine years later, he filed a federal appeal alleging his rights were violated when improper evidence was used during the investigation and trial.

His petition was submitted five days before the end of the one-year federal limit on such actions. But months later it was rebuffed on unrelated procedural grounds by a federal magistrate, who gave Ford two options: alter his petition to meet the legal requirements or allow it to be dismissed and then refile at a later date.

Ford chose to refile, and said he wasn’t advised the deadline had passed.

``The second option was basically no option,″ said Lisa Bassis, his attorney. ``He was misled.″

Ford challenged the dismissal, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him. The state of California appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The time limit was enacted to curb lengthy appeals by death row inmates trying to stall their execution. Ford is not facing the death penalty.

Many prisoners are unable to complete the complicated filing process in time, said Todd Maybrown, a Seattle attorney who has lectured and written articles on the issue.

``Probably thousands of people, or even more than that, are getting dinged out of court very promptly because they’re beyond the one-year limit,″ Maybrown said.

In Ford’s case, the state argued that requiring the courts to advise petitioners about the limit is an excessive burden.

Ford also attempted to use an improper delay tactic to get around the deadline, said state Deputy Attorney General Paul Roadarmel. Ford had asked the court to stop the clock on the one-year deadline while he continued his legal fight in state court, a common tactic but one that subverts the intent of the federal act, which was designed to speed up the process, Roadarmel said.

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