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CJLF Brief in Maples

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CJLF has filed this friend-of-the-court brief in Maples v. Thomas in support of the State of Alabama.   Maples is a double murderer who was represented by the big-name New York law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell for his state collateral review petition.  However, the big shots blew the deadline to appeal because (1) they didn't bother to inform the state court of a change in the attorneys handling the case; (2) the firm had a strange policy of not letting the attorneys use the firm name in their appearance -- even though the firm touts the work on its web site; and (3) when notices of decision addressed to the individual, departed attorneys arrived at the firm's mail room, the mail room sent them back to the court.

Contrary to what you may have read, Maples was not "abandoned" by the two departed associates.  They left the firm knowing that others at the firm, including a partner, were working on the case.  Maples was actively represented by attorneys at the big firm at all relevant times.

Maples is now represented by former Bush Administration Solicitor General Gregory Garre.  I don't get why so many Bush Administration lawyers are doing work contra bono publico.  Has the country completely run out of worthy causes for volunteer work?

The summary of argument from our brief follows the jump.

When Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), it decided to shift the balance in habeas corpus away from the extensive relitigation of state criminal cases and toward a more limited review. The procedural default rules in effect at that time, including Coleman v. Thompson, were part of the canvas on which Congress painted AEDPA. Even though most of the procedural default law was not codified, courts should not change it in a manner that will shift the balance to a point different from the one that Congress chose.

Several briefs in this case raise the issue of the State of Alabama's lack of a formal mechanism guaranteeing appointed counsel in state collateral review in capital cases. Congress has already acted to address this specific problem, based on a recommendation of a committee of the Judicial Conference chaired by Justice Powell. This solution has not worked to date because it has been obstructed, in large part by the very federal courts that were supposed to enforce it. The correct response of the judicial branch of government is to implement the solution Congress enacted. The judiciary should not make up its own solution, and it should definitely not impose the solution Congress considered and rejected--depriving states of the procedural default defenses previously in effect.

In some circumstances, this Court has made exceptions to procedural rules in habeas corpus to correct a miscarriage of justice. This case does not call for making new exceptions, because there has been no miscarriage. Cory Maples committed a callous crime. He gunned down two people who had been his friends for no good reason and apparently just to steal their car and money. He received a just sentence for this crime.

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What I thought was really great in the brief was the idea that the value of a chance at habeas is not enough to excuse a procedural default. There has to be a real injustice, and losing one's shot at habeas ain't that.

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