In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court today rejected a Florida death row prisoner’s attempt to challenge his conviction in the federal courts because he missed a one-year filing deadline. The Associated Press reports that the justices ruled against Gary Lawrence, who faces execution for murdering a man who had moved in with Lawrence’s wife. Under the 1996 federal Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, death row inmates have one year after a conviction becomes final in state courts to petition the federal system to review the case.
Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the language of the law is clear. In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said rejecting Lawrence’s arguments is “neither a necessary nor a proper interpretation” of the law. Attorneys for the state of Florida argued that a Lawrence petition to the Supreme Court did not suspend the one-year deadline. Therefore, they argued, Lawrence’s subsequent habeas petition seeking review of his conviction in U.S. District Court in Florida was nearly four months too late.