Supreme Court Upholds Death Row Appeal In “Lawyer’s Nightmare” Case


The Supreme Court said an Alabama death row inmate should not be penalized for missing a crucial appeal deadline when the error was caused by his pro bono lawyers from New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell, reports the National Law Journal. The 7-2 ruling in Maples v. Thomas brings an end to a “lawyer’s nightmare” case that showed how a series of law firm mailroom and notice errors as well as the departure of two associates could nearly result in a client’s execution.

In excruciating detail, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recited the “uncommon facts” and mishaps that amounted to abandonment of convicted murderer Cory Maples by his Sullivan & Cromwell lawyers at the precise moment when Maples faced a filing deadline for his state post-conviction appeal. Abandoned by counsel, Maples was left unrepresented at a critical time for his state postconviction petition, and he lacked a clue of any need to protect himself pro se,” wrote Ginsburg. “In these circumstances, no just system would lay the default at Maples’ death-cell door.” I The case returns to lower courts for a hearing on whether the error prejudiced his case, after which the merits of his ineffective assistance claim could be considered.

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