Tuesday, January 08, 2013

"[The Eleventh Circuit] does not seem to be listening [to the Supreme Court]."

That's the intro to this New York Times article about death penalty habeas cases in which the lawyer's mistakes end up costing their clients.  One such story from the intro to the article:

A few days after Christmas, a divided three-judge panel of the court ruled that Ronald B. Smith, a death row inmate in Alabama, could not pursue a challenge to his conviction and sentence because he had not “properly filed” a document by a certain deadline.
As it happens, there is no dispute that the document was filed on time. But it was not “properly filed,” the majority said, because Mr. Smith’s lawyer did not at the same time pay the $154 filing fee or file a motion to establish something also not in dispute — that his client was indigent.
Nor did the majority place much weight on the fact that the lawyer himself was on probation for public intoxication and was addicted to crystal methamphetamine while he was being less than punctilious. In the months that followed, the lawyer would be charged with drug possession, declare bankruptcy and commit suicide.
The 11th in a 2-1 decision said no problem. The conclusion to the article explains that Judge Barkett has been dissenting in these cases:
Judge Rosemary Barkett dissented, saying she did not see how the case was materially different from that of Mr. Maples or a 2010 rebuke from the Supreme Court to her court. In that second case, a Florida death row inmate named Albert Holland was given a new opportunity to argue that his lawyer’s inaccessibility and incompetence had caused him to miss a deadline. In a concurrence in April in yet another blown-deadline case, Judge Barkett identified the larger question that runs through these cases: why is it morally permissible to blame clients for their lawyers’ mistakes?
The legal system generally answers by saying that lawyers are their clients’ agents. The answer makes perfect sense when you are talking about sophisticated clients who choose their lawyers, supervise their work and fire them if they turn out to be incompetent or worse.
But the theory turns problematic, Judge Barkett wrote, when the clients are on death row, have no role in the selection of their lawyers and have no real control over them.
Allowing Mr. Smith’s challenge to be heard in a federal court does not mean he would prevail. But, Judge Barkett said, he ought to be allowed to make his case. “It is unjust and inequitable,” she wrote, “to require death row inmates to suffer the consequences of their attorneys’ negligence.”

1 comment:

Rumpole said...

Ahemmm... H/T?