Supreme Court to Hear Case of Man Facing Execution Because of Mailroom Mixup

On March 21, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from death-row inmate Cory Maples (pictured), who is facing execution because of a missed filing deadline in his state appeal. Copies of an Alabama court ruling in his case were sent to the New York law firm handling his appeals pro bono but were returned unopened to the court because the attorneys representing Maples had left the firm. Maples himself was not informed of the Alabama ruling or the fact that his attorneys had left. By the time the mailroom mix-up was discovered, Maples’s time to appeal had expired. Gregory Garre, Maples’ new attorney, is arguing that Maples should not be penalized for missing the deadline because Maples was blameless, the government’s actions were a contributing factor, and his lawyers had effectively stopped representing him. The state maintains that Maples should be denied a hearing because his case is no different from “countless attorneys [who] have missed filing deadlines over the years.” A third attorney, who was acting as local counsel in Alabama but who played no part in Maples’ actual representation, did receive the Alabama ruling but ignored it. The case is Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63.

Maples’ new attorneys have tried to challenge to his conviction and death sentence in federal court, citing the “gross ineffectiveness” of his inexperienced trial lawyers, but have been rebuffed because of the late filing in state court. In 2006, the Supreme Court considered how hard the government must try to ensure that notice of a severe action was actually received. The case, Jones v. Flowers, considered the sale of a home for unpaid taxes. According the court ruling, if a letter is returned unopened, officials must try harder to reach the owner. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr wrote, “This is especially true when, as here, the subject matter of the letter concerns such an important and irreversible prospect as the loss of a house.”

(A. Liptak, “Court to Hear Case Stalled by Mistake in Mailroom,” New York Times, March 21, 2011). See Representation, Arbitrariness, and U.S. Supreme Court.