U.S. Supreme Court Sides With Death-Row Inmate on Law Firm Mailroom Error
By Greg Stohr – Jan 18, 2012 10:14 AM ET
The U.S. Supreme Court revived an appeal from an Alabama death-row inmate who missed a legal filing deadline because of a mailroom error at the New York law firm that was representing him.
The justices, voting 7-2 today to reverse a lower court, said Cory R. Maples was entitled to another chance to challenge his death sentence for killing two friends in 1995.
Maples had been represented without charge by two lawyers at New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in his 2001 bid to overturn his conviction. By the time an Alabama judge ruled against Maples in 2003, both lawyers had left the firm.
When the clerk’s office for the Alabama court mailed the judge’s order to the two lawyers, both envelopes were returned. One was stamped, “Returned to Sender — Attempted, Unknown,” and the other had a similar stamp along with “Return to Sender — Left Firm” written by hand.
The clerk’s office didn’t take any additional steps to contact the lawyers, and Maples himself didn’t learn about the order until a month after the appeal deadline had passed.
The case is Maples v. Thomas, 10-63.
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