Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Supreme Court Hears Missed Appeal for Death Row Inmate

Cory Maples is on Alabama's death row.  His appeal in the lower court was rejected as untimely because the court sent the notice to his two attorneys at a prominent New York law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, not knowing they had left the firm and no longer represented Maples.

According to Reuters, the law firm's mailroom sent the notice back unopened and stamped "Return to Sender." A local attorney in Alabama for Maples also received a copy of the ruling, but did nothing. Maples missed the filing deadline to appeal to federal courts.

Gregory Garre, a former Bush administration solicitor general who is representing Maples before the Supreme Court, called the facts of the case "extraordinary and shocking," reported Reuters.

The case Maples v. Thomas, 10-63 was argued this week before the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices seemed sympathetic to Maples plight. Reuters described the response of the justices as follows:

Justice Samuel Alito told Alabama Solicitor General John Neiman that he was pushing the Supreme Court to consider a constitutional rule that would have far-reaching impact, requiring court clerks to serve documents on both sides.

Alito also asked why the state did not just allow the appeal to be filed anyway as the deadline had passed through no fault of Maples.
Chief Justice John Roberts said a prosecutor eventually sent notice of the ruling to Maples in prison. "He must have thought there was a problem," Roberts said.

Justices Elena Kagan and Anthony Kennedy seemed particular concerned that it involved a death penalty case.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that when a lawyer stops representing a client, there usually is an obligation to tell the client and the court and to arrange for someone else to take over the case.

According to Reuters, Justice Antonin Scalia was the only court member who strongly and consistently supported the state's position during the argument. He repeatedly said Maples had a local counsel who received the notice.

"Where does the Constitution say, by the way, that you have to give notice, that every judicial action has to be noticed to the parties to the case?" Scalia asked Garre.

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