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Pro Bono Client Wins Fourth Circuit Appeal in Habeas Proceedings

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has reversed and remanded a collateral-review-related judgment in a case involving a Paul, Weiss pro bono client. Convicted by a jury in 2005 of four international drug-trafficking charges, our client filed a pro se "Motion for Relief from Judgment 60(b)(1)(3)(6)" alleging a series of errors in his previously unsuccessful habeas proceedings. The district court dismissed our client's 60(b) petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, holding that the motion was a successive, unauthorized federal habeas petition. Our client appealed, and the Fourth Circuit appointed Paul, Weiss associate Robert Littlehale to represent our client on appeal.

The Fourth Circuit issued three opinions. The majority opinion, written by Judge Roger Gregory and joined by Judge James Wynn, held that the court need not issue a Certificate of Appealability before determining whether the district court erred in dismissing our client's "purported" Rule 60(b) petition. That opinion, which accepted Paul, Weiss's mosaic defense coupling 2005 and 2009 Supreme Court opinions, recognized that an eleven-year-old circuit precedent had been abrogated in part and remanded the case for further proceedings before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Judge Wynn concurred, noting "with great respect to the dissenting view" that the dissent's logic would "run the risk of 'improperly restricting access to the courts.'" Judge Diana Motz dissented, explaining that binding circuit precedent compelled the opposite result.

Litigation partner Chuck Davidow supervised the team, which consisted of associate Robert Littlehale, who argued the appeal, and associates Diana Valdivia, Damon Andrews, Angela Cai, Kadeem Cooper, Parimal Garg and Kirsten Nelson, who assisted with argument preparation.

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