San Diego Law Review


Morgan Suder

Library of Congress Authority File


Document Type



This Comment argues that to neutralize this potential inequality, the Supreme Court should affirm the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Lee v. Lampert, finding that a credible claim of actual innocence constitutes an equitable exception to the AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations period. District courts must be able to call on their equitable powers, including both equitable principles already applied to the AEDPA’s statute of limitations as well as the actual innocence exception, in determining whether a district court may consider the merits of a criminal defendant’s otherwise untimely habeas petition.

Part II discusses the role of federal habeas corpus relief, the emergence of actual innocence in Supreme Court jurisprudence, and the relevant aspects of the AEDPA. Part III explains the purpose and application of statutes of limitations and discusses reasons a court should exercise its power to equitably toll the AEDPA’s limitations period. Part IV explores whether an actual innocence exception is necessary. This Part also examines the current split among the circuits and the reasoning and policy behind each circuit’s respective decision. Part V recommends that the Supreme Court adopt the gateway standard of actual innocence for equitable tolling of time-barred petitions and thereby harmonize already-applied equitable exceptions and the actual innocence exception to the AEDPA’s one-year limitations period. This Part discusses the policy implications of and the most likely counterarguments against recognizing actual innocence as an equitable exception to the AEDPA deadline. This Part then revisits Souliotes and other cases to highlight the critical role of the actual innocence gateway under Schlup in ensuring the equitable application of the AEDPA to federal habeas petitions. Part VI reiterates that the Supreme Court should recognize both avenues for equitable tolling of the AEDPA’s statute of limitations.