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The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously upheld California's handling of inmate appeals; at least, so far as deadlines go.

In a case arising out of a 1986 murder in Sacramento, the Court ruled that California need not set a specific deadline for when inmates file their habeas corpus petitions. Unlike most states, California does not set firm deadlines to determine whether an inmate's petition comes too late. Instead, California simply requires that the petitions be filed "without substantial delay."

That's good enough, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the unanimous court. Ginsburg and her colleagues concluded that convicted murderer Charles Martin had surely waited too long when he filed his petition nearly five years after his conviction. More significantly, the court concluded California's relatively loose guidelines were appropriate.

"Discretion enables a court to hone in on case-specific considerations and to avoid the harsh results that sometimes attend consistent application of an unyielding rule," Ginsburg wrote.

The ruling in Walker v. Martin reverses a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.


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