729 Fed.Appx. 817 (11th Cir. 2018), 15-14586, Maples v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections

Docket Nº:15-14586
Citation:729 Fed.Appx. 817
Opinion Judge:WILSON, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Cory R. MAPLES, Petitioner-Appellant, v. COMMISSIONER, ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent-Appellee.
Attorney:Gregory G. Garre, James Scott Ballenger, Kathy E. Brewer, Bridget R. Reineking, Alexandra P. Shechtel, Latham & Watkins, LLP, Washington, DC, Gary Alexion, The Legal Aid Society, New York, NY, John G. Butler, Jr., McDaniel & McDaniel, LLC, Huntsville, AL, Stephanie N. Grace, Latham & Watkins, LLP...
Judge Panel:Before WILSON, JILL PRYOR, and HULL , Circuit Judges. HULL, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
Case Date:April 05, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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729 Fed.Appx. 817 (11th Cir. 2018)

Cory R. MAPLES, Petitioner-Appellant,



No. 15-14586

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 5, 2018

Editorial Note:

DO NOT PUBLISH. (See Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure Rule 32.1. See also U.S.Ct. of App. 11th Cir. Rule 36-2.)

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, D.C. Docket No. 5:03-cv-02399-SLB

Gregory G. Garre, James Scott Ballenger, Kathy E. Brewer, Bridget R. Reineking, Alexandra P. Shechtel, Latham & Watkins, LLP, Washington, DC, Gary Alexion, The Legal Aid Society, New York, NY, John G. Butler, Jr., McDaniel & McDaniel, LLC, Huntsville, AL, Stephanie N. Grace, Latham & Watkins, LLP, New York, NY, for Petitioner-Appellant

Andrew Lynn Brasher, James Clayton Crenshaw, James Roy Houts, Corey Landon Maze, Alabama Attorney General’s Office, Montgomery, AL, Jess R. Nix, Spotswood Sansom & Sansbury, LLC, Birmingham, AL, for Respondent-Appellee

William D. Coston, Meaghan H. Kent, Martin Lynn Saad, Venable, LLP, Washington, DC, for Amicus Curiae The Constitution Project

Lisa Wright Borden, Baker Donelson Berman Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, Birmingham, AL, for Amicus Curiae Alabama Appellate Court Justices and Bar Presidents

Before WILSON, JILL PRYOR, and HULL[*], Circuit Judges.


WILSON, Circuit Judge:

Cory R. Maples, an Alabama death-row inmate, appeals the district court’s denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 amended petition for writ of habeas corpus. We granted Maples a Certificate of Appealability (COA) as to one claim: "Whether the district court erred in denying [Maples’s] claim that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel in the investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of [Maples’s] 1997 trial?" Having considered the state court record, the district court’s order, the parties’ submissions, and with the benefit of oral argument, we vacate the district court’s denial of Maples’s amended § 2254 petition as to that penalty-phase mitigation claim and remand for an evidentiary hearing and fact findings as outlined below.1


When Maples was 21 years old, he confessed to shooting and killing two friends and fleeing in a car belonging to one of the friends after a long day of drinking. Two years later, he was convicted of murder and the jury recommended the death penalty,

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bye a vote of 10 to 22 ; the state trial court subsequently accepted that recommendation. The court found one statutory aggravating factor (murder during a robbery), one statutory mitigating factor (Maples had a limited criminal history), and a few non-statutory mitigating factors. After concluding that Maples’s mitigating factors were weak and unpersuasive, the court found that the single statutory aggravating factor justified imposing the death penalty.

In July 2001, Maples filed his initial Rule 32 petition for habeas relief in Alabama state court. In September 2001, the State filed a response and a proposed order denying the petition. In December 2001, Maples filed an amended Rule 32 petition that contained significantly more factual allegations about his penalty-phase mitigation claim, and the state habeas court accepted the petition; but no evidentiary hearing was held. Then, in 2003, the court dismissed Maples’s petition on the pleadings and signed the State’s September 2001 proposed order, even though the order was drafted before Maples filed his amended Rule 32 petition. Thus, the order did not address Maples’s new allegations. In signing the order, the court merely struck through "2001" on the signature line and wrote in the 2003 date.

Because Maples did not timely appeal this Rule 32 order, albeit through no fault of his own as his counsel at the time had abandoned him, no state appellate review occurred. As a result, the district court in his federal § 2254 case determined that Maples’s penalty-phase mitigation claim was procedurally defaulted. This court later affirmed that determination. Maples v. Allen, 586 F.3d 879, 886-91 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam). The United States Supreme Court, noting the abandonment by his own counsel, granted certiorari as to the procedural-default issue, vacated this court’s ruling, and remanded, concluding that "ample" cause exists to excuse Maples’s procedural default. See Maples v. Thomas, 565 U.S. 266, 280, 289-90, 132 S.Ct. 912, 922, 927-28, 181 L.Ed.2d 807 (2012). However, the Court left open the question of whether actual prejudice exists. We then remanded the case back to the district court to consider actual prejudice in the first instance.

On remand, the district court, without holding an evidentiary hearing and applying AEDPA deference,3 concluded that

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Maples’s penalty-phase mitigation claim was procedurally defaulted for lack of prejudice. Because the standard for actual prejudice overlaps with the standard for Strickland 4 prejudice, see Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 289, 119 S.Ct. 1936, 1952, 144 L.Ed.2d 286 (1999), the court focused its analysis on whether Maples’s penalty-phase mitigation claim satisfied Strickland’s prejudice prong. In doing so, the court found reasonable the state habeas court’s conclusion that Maples, in his amended Rule 32 petition, did not allege facts that established Strickland prejudice, and determined that the claim was procedurally defaulted. This is Maples’s appeal of that determination.


Like the district court, we too focus our analysis on Strickland prejudice. But we, unlike the district court, conclude that the state habeas court’s rejection of Maples’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim was unreasonable under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).5 We also conclude, upon a de novo review, that Maples pleaded facts in his amended Rule 32 petition that, if proven, "would entitle him to habeas corpus relief." Daniel v. Comm’r, Ala. Dep’t of Corr., 822 F.3d 1248, 1280 (11th Cir. 2016). Because the state court’s habeas decision was unreasonable— thereby piercing AEDPA deference and prompting a de novo review— and because a de novo review reveals Maples’s claims, if proven, would establish a valid Strickland claim, we hold that he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the matter. See

id. at 1248, 1261, 1280-81 (ordering an evidentiary hearing on a petitioner’s Strickland claim after an Alabama state court unreasonably dismissed the petitioner’s Rule 32 petition on the pleadings). We address each point in turn.


The state habeas court’s decision that Maples’s allegations, if true, could not establish a valid penalty-phase mitigation claim was unreasonable under § 2254(d). The decision was based both on an unreasonable determination of facts, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), and an unreasonable application of clearly established law, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Not only did erroneous factual conclusions based on the wrong Rule 32 petition permeate the court’s decision, but the court also conducted a splintered and fragmented prejudice analysis, contrary to Strickland’s directives.


The state habeas court’s "adjudication of [Maples’s penalty-phase mitigation] claim ... resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts" because the court, in adjudicating

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the claim, relied on the wrong Rule 32 petition. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). The court was required to determine the facts governing Maples’s claim by examining his operative Rule 32 petition— his amended Rule 32 petition— and accepting as true the allegations therein. See

Daniel, 822 F.3d at 1261. Instead, the court determined the governing facts by examining Maples’s initial Rule 32 petition; thus, all of the new and more detailed allegations in the amended petition were ignored. In Maples’s amended Rule 32 petition detailing his mitigating evidence, he not only alleged specific details about his depression, suicide attempts, mental health issues, head trauma, and good character, but he also identified multiple persons who could have testified accordingly.

For example, although Maples alleged specific details about his depression and suicide attempts, and named multiple persons who could have testified about the details, the state habeas court concluded that Maples failed to identify any details about his depression. And, even though Maples alleged that the director of his drug-addiction program, Kathy Goodwin, could have testified about his addiction and mental health issues, the court found that Maples did not identify anyone from the program who could testify about his addiction and mental health issues.

Similarly, the state habeas court made...

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