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On Aug. 9, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals followed the lead of the 7th Circuit in giving an expansive reading to the “relating back” provision of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(2) as applied to habeas corpus petitions. The 9th Circuit decision is Felix v. Mayle, No. 02-16614. In effect, their reading relaxes the one-year deadline for filing a federal petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 by allowing a broad range of otherwise out-of-time amendments if the initial petition was timely. The 3d, 4th, 8th, 11th and D.C. circuits, by contrast, start with the proposition that the act’s deadline is meant to be nearly inviolate and read Rule 15(c)(2) in a narrow fashion to achieve that result. Trial taken whole In 1995, Jacoby Felix was convicted of first degree murder in California state court. Within a year of his state conviction becoming final in 1997, Felix filed a federal petition with a single claim: that his 6th Amendment confrontation right was denied when a witness’ videotaped statement was admitted in lieu of an in-court appearance. In 1999, after the act’s one-year deadline had passed, Felix filed an amended petition that contained one additional claim: that the state court had violated his rights to due process and against self-incrimination by admitting into evidence allegedly involuntary statements he had made during a police interview. Rule 15(c)(2) states that “an amendment of a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . the claim or defense in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading.” The 9th Circuit allowed Felix’s amendment on the ground that both old and new claims related back to the same underlying transaction: the trial and conviction that resulted in his incarceration. The court wrote, “It unduly strains the usual meaning of ‘conduct, transaction, or occurrence’ to regard a criminal trial and conviction as a series of perhaps hundreds of individual occurrences.” The court was untroubled by the fact that Felix’s first claim was sufficiently different from his second that it did not give the prosecution notice of what to expect. The court noted that in ordinary civil litigation, Rule 15(c)(2) was interpreted as giving liberal leave to amend “even when the new claims are based on a different theory of which there was no warning in the original pleading.” In dissent, 9th Circuit Judge Richard C. Tallman argued the position of the 3d, 4th, 8th, 11th and D.C. circuits. He said that precisely because the act set a special deadline, habeas corpus could not be compared to ordinary civil litigation. “[A] broad view of ‘relation back,’ ” he wrote, “ would undermine the limitations period set by Congress in the [act].” He argued that amendments should not be treated as relating back unless they concerned “the same set of facts” with such particularity that the prosecution could not be said to be lacking in fair notice. Felix’s amendment failed to meet that standard, he said, because his first claim concerned the admission of a videotape during trial and the second concerned the denial of a pretrial motion to suppress his police statement. Tallman warned that the majority’s approach was in conflict with the act’s goal of speeding collateral appeals. Young’s e-mail address is gyoungnlj.com.

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