Last week the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling on a case that we have been reporting on for some time. The case involves Cory Maples, who had been convicted of two murders in Alabama and sentenced to death. We first reported about this case on October 5, 2011. Maples wanted to appeal his murder conviction and death sentence because his attorneys failed to argue that he was impaired at the time of the murders. His initial appeal was denied and the court mailed out notice to his attorneys that they had 42 days to file an appeal. Both of the young attorneys that had handled his case and his appeal had left the firm and had not informed the clerk of the court, the prosecutor, or Mr. Maples. The notices that had been mailed to his attorneys were "Returned to Sender." The Clerk of the Court did nothing when they received these notices back in the mail. The 42 days came and went and Maples did not pursue his appeal. The Alabama courts ruled that he had lost his right to appeal. Last week, the United States Supreme Court ruled Maples had withstood a "veritable perfect storm of misfortune" and should be allowed to pursue his appeal. But while this was the part of the story which gathered all the attention, there's another part of the decision which we would like to discuss. In its decision, the United States Supreme took a swipe at Alabama for it s unjust system of capital punishment. The majority opinion was delivered by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She pointed out that Alabama only requires that an attorney appointed to represent an indigent defendant in a capital case have 5 years of criminal law experience. No capital case experience is required. The state does not provide, nor does it require any professional education or training in capital cases, appointed lawyers are underpaid. In addition, Alabama is one of the only states that does not provide legal representation throughout post conviction proceedings. This means that a defendant with the financial resources can often escape the Death Penalty, whereas a poor defendant is left to fend for themselves. In Maples case, his lawyers admitted that they were "stumbling around in the dark" because they lacked experience handling capital cases. The Supreme Court's decision means that Alabama lawmakers should do more to insure that indigent criminal defendants have adequate legal representation in Alabama.
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