Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Maples v. Thomas: A Cautionary Tale

Today the United States Supreme court decided a case that is both high profile and right on point for aspiring law students, at the intersection of constitutional law and professional responsibility.  Maples, an  Alabama death row inmate challenging his murder convictions on constitutional grounds (ineffective assistance of counsel) , was represented pro bono at the state level by two lawyers from a prominent New York Law firm. When the lawyers left that firm without notifying the Alabama court, the notice of the court's decision against their client ended up in the New York firm's mail room, where it was marked "Return to Sender." When it was returned, the Alabama court took no action.  Neither did the client's local Alabama attorney, so the filing date for a Notice of Appeal just passed by. After the attorneys and the courts shared the blame in the oral arguments presented to the Supreme Court justices, the often divided Court decided 7-2 that Maples had suffered "abandonment" by his attorneys and that his procedural default must be excused.  The opinion, which makes for good reading, is found here.  The briefs and case analysis can be found at SCOTUSblog.     

Ernster, the Virtual Library Cat

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