11th Circuit, Death Penalty, Pro Bono, Screw-Ups

Sullivan & Cromwell’s Life-or-Death Mistake?
Leading law firm blows deadline in death penalty case.

Sullivan Cromwell LLP new logo Sullcrom.jpgMore than a decade ago, Cory Maples of Alabama murdered two people. After an evening of heavy drinking, playing pool, and riding around in a friend’s car, Maples killed two friends, shooting them execution-style.

According to court documents, he signed a confession, “stating that he: (1) shot both victims around midnight; (2) had drunk six or seven beers by about 8 p.m., but ‘didn’t feel very drunk'; and (3) did not know why he decided to kill the two men. Faced with this confession, Maples’s trial attorneys argued that Maples was guilty of murder, but not capital murder.”

A jury found Maples guilty and sentenced him to death.

Maples appealed his capital murder conviction with the help of attorneys at Sullivan & Cromwell:

Maples subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32, claiming, inter alia, that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate or present evidence of: (1) Maples’s mental health history; (2) his intoxication at the time of the crime; and (3) his alcohol and drug history.

The trial court dismissed Maples’ Rule 32 petition, and sent notice of the decision to the attorneys at Sullivan & Cromwell and to local Alabama counsel. There was a 42-day period for filing a notice of appeal, but all the lawyers involved dropped the ball on the case, PepsiCo-style.

So what’s the explanation for S&C’s missing the deadline for filing an appeal?

From our tipster:

Basically, Sullivan & Cromwell forgot to file a notice of appeal for a death row inmate, causing him to procedurally default all his ineffective-assistance claims. Oops!

Here’s the explanation, from the Eleventh Circuit (PDF):

The Alabama trial court clerk sent copies of the Rule 32 Order, filed on May 22, 2003, to: (1) Maples’s two attorneys (Jaasi Munanka and Clara Ingen-Housz) with the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell in New York, who were attorneys of record and had performed all of the substantive work on Maples’s Rule 32 case; and (2) Maples’s local counsel (John G. Butler, Jr.) in Alabama. No one disputes that both Butler and Sullivan & Cromwell received copies of the Rule 32 Order dismissing Maples’s petition.

Neither Maples nor any of his three attorneys filed a notice of appeal from the dismissal of Maples’s Rule 32 petition within the 42 days required by Alabama Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b)(1). Butler took no action whatsoever after receiving the Rule 32 Order. Sullivan & Cromwell received the Rule 32 Order but instead of opening the envelope that contained it, the firm returned it to the Alabama circuit court clerk.

Apparently attorneys Munanka and Ingen-Housz had left Sullivan & Cromwell. Although arrangements had been made for new attorneys to take over the pro bono matter, they had not filed notice of the change of counsel with the Alabama trial court.

The state’s attorney wrote Maples a letter letting him know he had missed the deadline to appeal the Petition’s dismissal, but that he could still file a federal habeas petition.

Thereafter, Maples’s mother contacted Sullivan & Cromwell. On Maples’s behalf, new attorneys from the Sullivan & Cromwell firm requested that the Alabama trial court re-issue its Rule 32 Order so that he might file a timely appeal. The trial court refused, stating in an order that it was “unwilling to enter into subterfuge in order to gloss over mistakes made by counsel for [Maples].”

New Sullivan & Cromwell attorneys helped Maples file his federal habeas petition, but that petition was denied:

The district court concluded that: (1) Maples’s ineffective-assistance claims were procedurally defaulted because Maples did not timely file an appeal of the dismissal of his Rule 32 petition; (2) even if Maples’s default were the result of his three post-conviction counsel’s failing to file a Rule 32 appeal, such ineffectiveness could not establish cause for the default because there is no constitutional right to post-conviction counsel; and (3) the Alabama appellate courts’ decisions that Maples was not entitled to a sua sponte jury instruction on manslaughter due to voluntary intoxication was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

The decision was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit in a per curiam opinion. Cory Maples remains on death row.

Maples v. Allen [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (PDF)]
Cory Maples [Canadian Coalition Against The Death Penalty]
Maples v. Allen [Leagle]

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