Maples v. Thomas - Legal Abandonment (Docket 10-63)

Constitutional Question: In the case of Maples v. Thomas, the constitutional question being presented before the Supreme Court is "Whether the Eleventh Circuit properly held that there was no cause to excuse any procedural default where petitioner was blameless for the default, the state's own conduct contributed to the default, and petitioner's attorneys of record were no longer functioning as his agents at the time of any default." In plain English, this is asking weather a prisoner can argue that a death sentence is unconstitutional when proper filing procedures were not followed. This is specifically relevant to the sixth and eighth amendments since they specifically involve congressional proceedings.

Facts of the Case: Cory Maples was arrested and convicted for first degree murder in Alabama. In Alabama, once someone is convicted, they are not given free council. Since he could not afford an attorney, he contacted two New York legislators who would act as his out-of-state council pro-bono. As with any out of state council in Alabama, there needed to be a local council to oversee the case on the local scale. After filing for post-conviction relief (where Maples petitioned the court to have his death penalty overturned), he request was denied. The copy of that denial was sent to the New York lawyers and the Alabama lawyer. However, both of his New York lawyers left their firm, and the ruling was returned to the county clerk. In addition, the Alabama lawyer did not convey the ruling to Maples, since he assumed the New York lawyers would have done so. After not hearing his ruling, he contacted the county clerk who sent a copy of the ruling directly to the prison (where it would be given to Maples). Unfortunately, upon receipt of said document, he noticed that the deadline for him to appeal the petition had already passed. Therefore, he wished to argue that continuing his death sentence would be unconstitutional since he was not given ample time to appeal (due to his lawyers' inability to represent Maples in this scenario).

Summary of the Arguments before the SCOTUS: In the supreme court hearing, the story was conveyed before the court by a representative of Maples to explain the ways in which his appeal deadline should have been extended in this instance (or his case be re-evaluated). Some members of the supreme court questioned whether the court should be punished by having to re-hear the case (taking up the court's valuable time). In addition, the Maples representative reiterated that Maples should not be punished for the abandonment by three responsible lawyers. However, the court did seem be particularly hesitant at the vast implications that a ruling for abandonment could bring.

Prediction: While the court did not want to have huge implications, it appears as though they will side on behalf of Maples. This will probably be done with a complex ruling explaining the numerous factors for abandonment by lawyers to be considered ineffective council (which is prohibited by the sixth amendment).