Appellate Clinic Secures Another Major Reversal in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals

The Cleveland-Marshall Appellate Practice Clinic has secured an important victory in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

20 years ago, John Lowery was convicted of murder and attempted muder for a shooting that occured in Knoxville, Tennessee. Since then, he has been serving a life sentence in prison. 

Twelve years after his conviction, however, Mr. Lowery was able to secure new evidence that could prove his innocence: the two eye witnesses who identified him in court recanted, and a new eye witness came forward attesting that she never saw him at the scene during the shooting. 

Lowery brought a Habeas Corpus petition before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, but was denied due to untimeliness. He then appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which appointed the Appellate Clinic to represent him.

On appeal, the Clinic argued that the court below erred by wrongly applying McQuiggin v. Perkins, a 2013 Supreme Court case that allows for some judicially-carved exceptions to the one-year statute-of-limitation rule. In particular, Perkins allows for innocence claims to be heard even after the statute of limitations has run, provided that the petitioner submits “new evidence.” The court below held that Lowery’s evidence was not new, since they were presented first in state court. 

Accepting the Clinic’s arguments in full, the Sixth Circuit wrote: “whatever new evidence means, the district court erred by concluding that evidence presented to state courts categorically does not qualify. After all, federal law requires habeas petitioners to exhaust their claims in state court before seeking relief in federal court.”  

Appellate Practice Clinic students Brittany May, Susan Oates, Lauren Wazevich, and Jared Thomson worked hard on the Opening Brief and the Reply Brief. Professor Doron Kalir supervised the work and served as Counsel of Record. 

The court’s opinion is available here.

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