Alabama Inmate May Face Execution Because of Mailroom Mix-Up

Cory Maples, an inmate on Alabama’s death row, may pay for a simple clerical error with his life. When copies of an Alabama court ruling in his case were sent to the New York law firm handling his appeals, both copies were returned unopened because the firm’s attorneys representing Maples had left the firm. By the time the error was discovered, Maples’s time to appeal had expired. So far, the firm has failed to persuade a federal appeals court to waive the deadline for filing an appeal. Maples’s new attorney is arguing that Maples should not be penalized for a mistake he did not commit. Prof. Deborah Rhode, an authority on indigent defense and legal ethics at Stanford, said, “Maples’s case is a textbook illustration of why the doctrine of imputing responsibility to the client for a lawyer’s mistake is so out of touch with reality.” Alabama is the only state that does not provide lawyers for all indigent death row inmates to challenge their convictions. Hence, defendants rely on volunteer attorneys, often from out of state, to fill the gap, and that contributed to the confusion.

(A. Liptak, “A Mailroom Mix-Up That Could Cost a Life,” New York Times, August 2, 2010). See Arbitrariness and Representation.