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April 4, 2016
  United States v. Cowley -- Fourth Circuit
Fourth Circuit Says 'No Way' to COA for IPA Appeal

Areas of Law: Criminal Procedure, Criminal Law, Appellate Procedure

Issues Presented: Whether a certificate of appealability is required for the denial of an Innocence Protection Act ("IPA") motion; and whether the district court abused its discretion when denying Cowley's IPA motion for untimeliness.

Brief Summary: In August 2000, Shane Cowley was convicted of crimes stemming from the attempted robbery and murder of Jeff Stone. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Both his conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. In 2004, Cowley's motion to vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 was denied by the district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Also, in 2004, the Innocence Protection Act (IPA) became law allowing "federal prisoners to move for court-ordered DNA testing under certain specified conditions." Cowley's instant appeal centers on the denial of his IPA motion.

Before reviewing the denial of Cowley's IPA motion, the Fourth Circuit considered the government's argument that Cowley's appeal was not properly before the court because the district court denied a Certificate of Appealability (COA) and the Fourth Circuit did not grant one. The government further claimed that a COA was needed because the IPA motion presents itself as a successive habeas petition. The Fourth Circuit, citing both statutes, held that an appeal from the denial of an IPA motion is not subject to the COA requirement. First, the court explained the plain language of the IPA does not contain a COA requirement. Comparatively, the statute for a § 2255 motion expressly requires a COA. Next, the court found the text of the IPA makes clear that it is intended to provide different relief than habeas remedies. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit found that a COA is not needed for an appeal from the denial of an IPA motion.

After deciding that Cowley's appeal was properly before it because he did not need a COA, the Fourth Circuit examined the denial of Cowley's IPA motion for DNA testing for an abuse of discretion. A motion under the IPA must meet ten requirements including timeliness. There is a rebuttable presumption of timeliness on motions, "made within 60 months of enactment of the Justice for All Act of 2004 or within 36 months of conviction, whichever comes later." Cowley's motion was not subject to this rebuttable presumption because his 60-month period expired five years before his motion was filed.

Cowley argued that he could overcome a finding of untimeliness by demonstrating good cause and manifest injustice. First, Cowley stated he had shown "good cause" because he had been incarcerated for eight years between the IPA's passing and filing his motion and as such he had not been able to find an attorney or investigators to work on his case. The Fourth Circuit rejected this argument, explaining that incarceration and the inability to find an investigator are not good causes as all those bringing IPA motions will be incarcerated. The court further explained that ignorance of the law is also not enough for good cause. Next, Cowley argued that the denial of his motion would result in manifest injustice. Considering "all relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the motion," the Fourth Circuit rejected this argument as well.

The Fourth Circuit stated that both Cowley and his attorney were aware of the underlying DNA claims as early as trial but Cowley still waited 8 years to file the IPA motion. The court also pointed out that Cowley was appointed counsel during his § 2255 proceedings. Thus, for some time after the IPA was passed he did have counsel. Moreover, there was a minimal showing that the evidence would have DNA material available for testing and that the results of testing would "raise a reasonable probability" that Cowley didn't commit the crimes. Because Cowley was unable to rebut the presumption of untimeliness by showing good cause and manifest injustice, his motion was untimely. Thus, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court did not abuse its discretion and affirmed its denial of Cowley's IPA motion seeking DNA testing.

To read the full text of this opinion, please click">here. [/L]

Panel: Judges Traxler, Shedd, and Dillon

Argument Date: 12/8/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 2/29/16

Docket Number: No. 15-6067

Decided: Affirmed by published opinion

Case Alert Author: Diamond Martin, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: James Yash Moore, THE LAW OFFICE OF JAMES Y. MOORE, Ludlow, Kentucky, for Appellant. Erik S. Goes, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charleston, West Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: R. Booth Goodwin II, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charleston, West Virginia, for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Judge Dillon

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Reneé Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/04/2016 02:20 PM     4th Circuit  

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