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WASHINGTON � When a federal trial judge makes a computational error that ultimately shuts the courthouse door on a defendant sentenced to 15 years-to-life imprisonment, who shoulders the blame? The criminal defendant, according to the Supreme Court in Keith Bowles v. Russell, No. 06-5306. A 5-4 high court held on June 14 that, despite Keith Bowles’ reasonable reliance on the date in an order by the judge for filing a notice of appeal in his habeas case, the filing was untimely under the relevant statute and nothing could excuse it. The judge told Bowles that his notice was due Feb. 27, 2004, three days later than permitted by federal rule and statute. Bowles filed on Feb. 26. The state never questioned the filing, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed it after finding the notice untimely. “This court has long held that the taking of an appeal within the prescribed time is ‘mandatory and jurisdictional,’ ” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas on behalf of the majority. But not in recent rulings, countered Justice David H. Souter in dissent. “Although we used to call the sort of time limit at issue here ‘mandatory and jurisdictional,’ we have recently and repeatedly corrected that designation as a misuse of the ‘jurisdiction’ label,” he wrote, citing three precedents.

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