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Something is Ineffective

dog_chasing_tail.jpgAlabama is squarely in the top five, and I’m not talking BCS rankings. No, as much as I enjoy the Crimson Tide, the State of Alabama is now ground zero for awful conservative legislation. Not only are they surpassing Arizona for extreme anti-immigrant legislation, but they are now attempting to execute their own citizens.

If you needed another reason to not live in Alabama, here it is – they will kill you for missing a deadline. A bit of background, lest you not fully embrace the stupidity of the situation or think I’m exaggerating.I’ll let Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com summarize:

Maples was convicted in 1997 of killing two friends after a night of heavy drinking, driving, and pool-playing. (The pool playing was significant to the appellate court for some reason.) At his trial, Maples’ lawyers warned the jury that their inexperience might look like they were “stumbling around in the dark.” They also failed to present evidence of Maples’ mental health history, which includes suicide attempts; the fact that he drank heavily that night; and information about his history of alcohol and drug use.

Alabama is the only state that doesn’t grant taxpayer-funded legal assistance to death-row inmates seeking to challenge what happened at trial. So for his appeal, Maples had local counsel acting in name only, while he was represented for free by a pair of second-year associates at the fabulous New York law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. For 18 months nothing happened with his appeal, during which period his young lawyers left their firm without notifying Maples or the court. They did tell the mailroom.

So when the Alabama court sent a ruling to his two lawyers indicating that his appeal had been denied, the mailroom stamped it “Return to Sender” and sent it back to Alabama. The county clerk stuck it in a file and Maples—who knew nothing of any of this—missed the 42-day deadline for filing another appeal. Maples’ local counsel, John Butler Jr., also received a copy of the ruling, but because he believed he was Maples’ lawyer in name only, he did nothing with it.

So Maples thought he had three lawyers when in fact he had none. He missed his filing deadline.

In other words, due to his useless lawyers, he blew his shot for an appeal – and the State of Alabama is still perusing his execution.

Ineffective assistance of counsel is a common claim in capital case appeals, but rarely are the facts more favorable for a suspect than in this case. Even the Robert’s Court, not exactly known for their warm and fuzzy take one criminal cases, seemed to be sympathetic to the defendant in oral arguments yesterday.

In all likelihood, the Supreme Court will find a way to intervene in this case, but that really isn’t the point. The real question is why Alabama is attempting to pursue this conviction as it currently stands. A state-level appeals court could just as easily find a reason to extend another chance to Mr. Maples as SCOTUS can, yet they refuse to do so.

It says an awful lot about the Alabama capital justice system that it is willing to put to death a man who—for all intents and purposes—had no legal representation. Today the court is clearly more horrified by Alabama’s willingness to press forward on that technicality than by any of the foul-ups that comprise these facts. That’s too bad because those screw-ups are depressingly common in death penalty cases. Not even Scalia denies that fact.

Not even Scalia – those are not words you hear every day.