This time it came (not surprisingly) from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In Durbin v. State of California, the panel took a look at what the petitioner third-striker had endured...which included legal errors from judges, lawyers and appellate panels alike...and decided that he could seek recourse from them for his unconstitutionally enhanced sentence under California's three strikes law.
Durbin's three strikes troubles began in 2000, when he pled no contest to a criminal threats conviction after both the prosecutor and judge assured him it would not count as a strike. Turned out they were wrong. The criminal threats conviction was later used in connection with another strike to net Durbin a life sentence under California's three strikes law. Durbin tried to appeal it at the time, but he was turned away from the courts on grounds that were as erroneous as those that landed him the conviction in the first place.
His argument was finally vindicated by the Ninth Circuit, which held that even though expired prior convictions generally cannot form the basis for habeas relief, Durbin's case was not typical.
"We therefore hold," the Court wrote, "that when a defendant cannot be faulted for failing to obtain timely review of a constitutional challenge to an expired prior conviction, and that conviction is used to enhance his sentence for a later offense, he may challenge the enhanced sentence under § 2254 on the ground that the prior conviction was unconstitutionally obtained."