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Oregon Supreme Court Announces ‘Escape Clause’ of Postconviction Relief Statute’s SOL Applies to Severe Mental Impairments During Limitations Period

by David M. Reutter

The Supreme Court of Oregon held that a petitioner’s mental impairments are relevant to whether the escape clause in the statute of limitations applies to postconviction petitions under ORS 138.510.

Matthew Ingle was charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter and one count of driving under the influence of intoxicants. After being involved in an automobile accident, he was transported to a hospital. A blood test revealed the presence of cannabis, an anti-depressant medication, and two anti-psychotic medications. Ingle, who was 18 at the time, said he was hallucinating, and in the month before the crash, he self-admitted himself to three hospital psychiatric wards where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and prescribed the psychotic medications he took the day of the incident.

His defense attorney persuaded Ingle that it was in his best to interest to waive his right to a jury trial and proceed to a stipulated facts trial, during which he raised an insanity defense. The prosecution presented a psychologist’s report that concluded Ingle “was unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law” at the time of the crash “because of [his] underlying psychiatric condition.” The prosecution stipulated to that finding and agreed Ingle was acting pursuant to a “delusional set of beliefs.” The trial court’s November 10, 2009, judgment found Ingle guilty except for insanity on all three counts. It placed him under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board for an indefinite period not to exceed 20 years and committed him to the Oregon State Hospital.

More than eight years later, the hospitalized Ingle, who was in custody at the state hospital, filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief. He requested and received a court-appointed lawyer, Patterson, who amended the petition twice. The Court recounted: “The state moved to dismiss the petition, asserting that it was barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations for post-conviction motions. ORS 138.510(3). See ORCP 21 A(1)(i). The state argued that, under Court of Appeals case law—including Fisher v. Belleque,237 Ore.App. 405, 240 P.3d 745 (2010) [ ]—‘petitioner’s mental impairments were irrelevant to whether the escape clause applied.”

The trial court granted the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. On review in the Oregon Supreme Court, Ingle once again pressed his argument that “the escape clause applied because, during the limitations period, he was disabled by ‘diagnosed schizophrenia’ and the ‘forced consumption of extremely powerful psychotropic medications’ and that those conditions ‘deprived him of the ability’ to file a timely petition.”

Resolving whether the escape clause applied hinged upon the construction of the statute of limitations, ORS 138.510(3) provides, “A petition pursuant to ORS 138.510 to 138.680 must be filed within two years” of the date the challenged conviction becomes final unless the grounds for relief asserted “could not reasonably have been raised’ within the two-year limitations period,” the Court noted.

Thus, the statute of limitations includes a two-year limitations period and an escape clause. The two-year limitations period begins to run on the date a person’s conviction becomes final, and that date depends on whether the person appeals the conviction. If, as in this case, a person does not appeal their conviction, the two-year period begins when the judgment on the conviction is entered in the register. ORS 138.510(3)(a).Because Ingle did not appeal, the statute of limitations expired on November 10, 2011, “which was more than eight years after [Ingle]’s conviction became final,” the Court explained.

After defining three key words—could, reasonably, and raised—in the statute, the Court further explained that “the text of the escape clause and our cases construing that text indicate that, when determining whether the escape clause applies, a court must consider a petitioner’s capabilities under the circumstances that existed during the limitations period. They also indicate that whether the escape clause applies does not depend on whether it was conceivably possible for the petitioner to raise the ground for relief during the limitations period, but, rather, whether it was reasonably possible for the petitioner to do so.”

Both parties agreed that “Oregon has always had a statute suspending the running of the statutes of limitation for persons under certain disabilities, including insanity.” DeLay v. Marathon LeTourneau Sales & Serv. Co., 630 P.2d 836 (Ore. 1981). A person’s insanity is legislatively recognized as “extraordinary circumstances” for the purpose of the escape clause, the Court concluded.

The Court ruled that Ingle’s allegations were “sufficient to establish that, as a result of mental impairments that existed throughout the limitations period and were beyond his control, [Ingle] lacked the ability to take the necessary steps to initiate a post-conviction case. As such, they are sufficient to trigger the escape clause.”

Accordingly, the Court reversed the order granting the State’s motion to dismiss on the pleadings and remanded for further proceedings. See: Ingle v. Matteucci,537 P.3d 895 (Ore. 2023).  

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Related legal case

Ingle v. Matteucci

 

 

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