Man Can Pursue Claim his Lawyer ‘Served Two Masters’

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By Jordan S. Rubin

A man who says his lawyer made him plead guilty but got his co-defendant off can pursue an ineffective assistance claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held May 23 ( Woodfolk v. Maynard , 2017 BL 171751, 4th Cir., No. 15-6364, 5/23/17 ).

Corey Woodfolk’s lawyer “served two masters,” by making him plead guilty while letting his co-defendant go free as a part of a joint plea deal with the prosecution in 1988, he said.

The court joined the reasoning of a majority of circuits to find procedural hurdles don’t bar Woodfolk’s case from proceeding.

It waded through “a tortuous history of proceedings in the nearly 30 years since” Woodfolk’s homicide plea.

Under federal law, habeas corpus petitions are subject to a one-year statute of limitations. One of the questions in this case was when that clock began to run for Woodfolk.

His clock began ticking with his state court re-sentencing in 2008. It was put on hold by further proceedings until the filing of his habeas petition challenging his 29-year-old conviction in 2013, the court said.

It joined the reasoning of a majority of other circuit courts to consider the statute of limitations issue.

In addition, the court said that state procedural rules can’t stand in the way of Woodfolk’s “exceptional circumstances.” It noted that “no court, state or federal, has ever addressed the substance of these troubling allegations.”

“The time has come for a fair adjudication of Woodfolk’s claim,” the court said.

Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote the unanimous opinion, joined by Judges Robert K. King and Senior Judge Andre M. Davis.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Washington, D.C. and the Office of the Federal Defender, District of Maryland, Greenbelt, Maryland, represented Woodfolk. The Office of the Attorney General of Maryland, Baltimore. represented the government.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at

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