A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose

The UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS for the THIRD CIRCUIT has issued an Opinion in the matter of ANGEL PABON, Appellant v. SUPERINTENDENT S.C.I. MAHANOY, et al, No. 08-1536, 2011 WL 2685586, an appeal from the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 07-cv-04199), before District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno. The appeal was before MCKEE, Chief Judge, AMBRO and CHAGARES, Circuit Judges. Judge Ambro wrote the Opinion.

Pabon is serving consecutive life sentences for two related murder convictions in Pennsylvania state court. He appealed the District Court’s dismissal of his pro se petition for habeas corpus as untimely. He conceded that his federal habeas petition was not timely under the one-year statute of limitations of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (10 months late), but contended that equitable tolling should have been granted. Pabon maintained that his inability to speak, read, or write English, coupled with the prison’s lack of Spanish-language legal materials and repeated denials of translation assistance, were extraordinary circumstances that prevented him from timely filing his habeas petition despite diligent efforts to pursue his federal claims.

The Court concluded that, on the equitable tolling issue, the facts Pabon alleged regarding his language inability, if true, coupled with the prison system’s lack of Spanish-language legal materials or interpreters, would be extraordinary circumstances. Judge Ambro also held that Pabon had exercised reasonable diligence in pursuing his claims, as Pabon had sought assistance with his claim on at least 10 occasions both before and after the AEDPA deadline, but was repeatedly denied access to legal materials in Spanish and translation assistance. Thus, the Court reversed the District Court’s ruling that Pabon was not reasonably diligent, vacated its order of dismissal, and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the factual issue of whether Pabon faced the extraordinary circumstances he claimed.

Elayne C. Bryn, Esquire, represented Pabon on appeal.

Thanks to Sondra Rodrigues, Esq., who represented Pabon in the PCRA stage of the case, for directing my attention to this case.

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