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Delusions Tolled Statute of Limitations for Appeal

(CN) - A mentally ill inmate whose severe delusions led him to believe he was working with the FBI from prison to bust a drug cartel deserves extra time to appeal, the 9th Circuit ruled.

Steven Forbess was convicted of attempted murder, assault, kidnapping and coercion of his former wife, Joanne.

An Oregon appellate court affirmed his conviction in November 2011, and Forbess learned about the decision five months later.

More than a year afterward, Forbess filed a federal habeas petition. It had been 11 months, however, since the expiration of a one-year statute of limitations.

Forbess claimed that his petition should be heard anyway because severe delusions, a symptom of his mental illness, had made it impossible for him to prepare a court filing in time.

The prisoner allegedly believed that he was working with the FBI to capture Joanne and her family whom he believed belonged to a drug cartel.

In his delusional state, he thought that the FBI placed him in prison for his protection, because the drug cartel wanted to kill him, and that he would be released as soon as Joanne was apprehended.

"Forbess therefore believed he had no need to file a federal habeas petition," Judge Stephen Trott wrote for the three-judge panel.

As such, Forbess deserves equitable tolling of the statute of limitation for a writ of habeas corpus, the Portland, Ore.-based court found.

"If, as the District Court found, Forbess could not rationally understand the need to pursue federal post-conviction relief, and if his reluctance to do so was due to his delusional belief that the FBI wanted him to lay low as bait for the cartel, then before the delusion lifted nothing anyone might have said to him about the need to timely file would have altered his behavior," Trott wrote.

Therefore, even if Forbess fully understood his legal right to appeal, he would not have done so.

"In short, Forbess's unique mental illness made it impossible for Forbess to timely file his federal habeas petition, and in fact caused him to fail to meet the filing deadline," the 10-page opinion states.

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