Barbour v. Haley

Decision Date23 January 2006
Docket NumberNo. 2:01CV1530-C.,2:01CV1530-C.
Citation410 F.Supp.2d 1120
PartiesChristopher BARBOUR, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Michael HALEY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama

Angela Leigh Setzer, Bryan A. Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, Montgomery, AL, Heather Esme Caramello, Holland & Knight, Boston, MA, Stephen P. Hanlon, Holland & Knight, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Albert Sims Butler, Andrew Weldon Redd, Kim Tobias Thomas, Alabama Department of Corrections, Legal Division, James Clayton Crenshaw, Charles B. Campbell, John J. Park, Jr., Margaret L. Fleming, Office of the Attorney General, Alabama State House, James Roy Houts, Attorney General's Office, State of Alabama, Montgomery, AL, for Defendants.


COODY, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.


Perhaps no characteristic of an organized and cohesive society is more fundamental than its erection and enforcement of a system of rules defining the various rights and duties of its members, enabling them to govern their affairs and definitively settle their differences in an orderly, predictable manner. Without such a "legal system," social organization and cohesion are virtually impossible.... Put more succinctly, it is this injection of the rule of law that allows society to reap the benefits of rejecting what political theorists call the "state of nature."

Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371, 374, 91 S.Ct. 780, 28 L.Ed.2d 113 (1971).2

In Boddie, Justice Harlan eloquently links the rule of law to the right of access to the courts.3 The fundamental issue raised in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case is the extent of the responsibility of a state in insuring that right by helping inmates sentenced to death to advance their collateral claims in state court. This case is not about the death penalty and the continuing debate which swarms about that criminal penalty. It is however about what the Constitution requires of states4 which provide postconviction remedies to death row inmates. The court has jurisdiction over the claims of the plaintiff class pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

The original complaint in this case including claims that state prison officials were violating the rights of death row inmates by creating impediments to their right of access to counsel.5 As reflected in other opinions entered in this case, the parties initially devoted their time and energies to amicably resolving these issues, and they were successful in this endeavor. That left what is in essence a single claim: the failure of the state to provide counsel or some form of adequate legal assistance to death row inmates prior to filing in state court their postconviction challenges to their convictions and sentences of death deprives them of their constitutional right of access to the courts.

At the outset, one undisputed fact is clear. In some instances, counsel are appointed by Alabama to death row inmates to assist them in pursuing postconviction claims. The Alabama Supreme Court recently explained the process.

The Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure permit a trial court to appoint counsel to represent an indigent petitioner in a postconviction proceeding if it "appears that counsel is necessary to assert or protect the rights of the petitioner." Rule 32.7(c), ALA. R.CRIM. P. Such an appointment occurs only after a petition has been filed. Therefore, inmates who are unable to find counsel to represent them before the limitations period for filing a Rule 32 petition expires, including inmates who are mentally ill, illiterate, or mentally retarded, must determine the date by which they must file their Rule 32 petition and prepare and file a petition in the proper form with the proper claims in the proper court. In 2002, this Court amended Rule 32, ALA. R.CRIM. P., to reduce the limitations period for filing a Rule 32 petition from two years to one year. Because most Rule 32 petitioners are imprisoned, those petitions are often based on a preliminary and restricted investigation of the claims asserted. Furthermore, an incarcerated inmate who does not have legal counsel is obviously hampered in his or her ability to interview witnesses, to gather records, to investigate factual questions, and to conduct legal research. A strict application of the doctrine of relation back to prohibit reasonable amendments to Rule 32 petitions could exacerbate these problems.

Ex parte Jenkins, ___ So.2d ___, ___, 2005 WL 796809, *5 (Ala. April 8, 2005) (emphasis added) (Holding that the civil relation back doctrine shall not apply to amendments of a postconviction petition).6

The plaintiff class contends nonetheless that the State's failure to appoint counsel for a death row inmate prior to the inmate's filing a postconviction petition deprives the inmate of the right of access because timely assistance of counsel is necessary for "meaningful" access for persons in their unique situation. Alternatively, the plaintiff class contends that because of their unique situation they have a right at least to some form of legal assistance prior to filing their petitions. Hearkening back to Justice Kennedy's concurrence in Murray v. Giarratano, 492 U.S. 1, 109 S.Ct. 2765, 106 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989), the plaintiffs argue that the complex procedural and factual demands of Alabama's postconviction process which they characterize as "a parody of process and a travesty of justice," cannot be met without legal assistance from outside the prison walls.

Alabama postconviction procedure ... is marked by strict pleading requirements, inflexible filing deadlines, elaborate preclusion doctrines, and other technical pitfalls that cannot practicably be navigated without competent counsel. The Alabama Attorney General's Office routinely files motion to dismiss claims in petitions filed pro se by death-row prisoners on procedural grounds such as lack of specificity ... failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted... and/or to dismiss claims as procedurally barred ... Alabama judges have adopted the Attorney General's interpretation of the pleading requirements of Rule 32,7 under which petitioners must set out specific factual details that cannot be obtained unaided from Death Row. Lacking the ability to interview witnesses, gather records, or investigate factual questions before filing — let alone the legal skill to understand what form of allegations will make a pleading "sufficiently specific" ... prisoners are at risk of summary dismissal.

Plts' Brf. Opp. defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment at 30-31.

In support of their constitutional claim, the plaintiffs posit three legal theories:

1. The Sixth Amendment guarantee of Assistance of Counsel, as well as the Eighth Amendment prohibition against Cruel and Unusual Punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment command of Due Process, give indigent death-sentenced inmates a federal constitutional right to counsel which requires the State of Alabama to provide attorneys to represent them in preparing and presenting Rule 32 proceedings that challenge their convictions or sentences.8

2. Under Alabama's current death-row conditions and postconviction practices, the Fourteenth Amendment right of access to the courts requires the State to provide attorneys to represent condemned inmates in preparing and presenting Rule 32 proceedings challenging their convictions or sentences.

3. Under Alabama's current death-row conditions and postconviction practices, the Fourteenth Amendment right of access to the courts requires the State to provide some other form of legal assistance or relief from Rule 32's impediments that is sufficient to enable them to obtain meaningful judicial consideration of potentially meritorious challenges to their convictions or sentences.9

IB. Procedural History

The complaint in this § 1983 action was filed on December 28, 2001. In addition to the claims explicated above, the plaintiffs also advanced a number of complaints about various actions of the defendants which impeded the plaintiffs' access to lawyers,10 legal assistants such as paralegals, and experts such as psychologists or social workers. After some preliminary skirmishes,11 the defendants answered and filed two days later a motion to dismiss for want of jurisdiction. In this same time period, the plaintiffs filed their motion for class certification and a motion for preliminary injunctive relief.

In an opinion entered March 24, 2003, the court resolved the jurisdictional motion by dismissing count two12 of the plaintiffs complaint on jurisdictional grounds and denying the motion in all other respects. In a separate order, the court denied without prejudice a number of pending preliminary injunctive motions and stayed further proceedings on the issues relating to claims of denial of access by lawyers to their death row clients. The underlying basis for that order was the willingness of the parties to amicably resolve these claims. In January 2004, the court entered an order which stated in part as follows:

The parties are commended for working together to reach an amicable resolution of the difficult issues. Through cooperation and diligence, the parties were able to resolve the claims related to access by lawyers to death row inmates, as well as reduce animosities between the parties and pave the way for the cooperation that led to the expeditious result in this litigation. The court appreciates the tenacity, diligence and hard work on the part of the litigants and their counsel that has led to the resolution of this aspect of the litigation.

Several months later in 2004, the plaintiffs renewed their motion for final judgment on the remaining claims and also filed a motion requesting the court to "toll the running of the Federal Statute of Limitations." This latter motion argued that the failure of the defendants to provide counsel to death row inmates to assist with the investigation of claims and the filing...

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  • People v. White
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • March 6, 2020
    ...under the United States Constitution, have no obligation to follow Anders procedures to withdraw. See, e.g. , Barbour v. Haley , 410 F. Supp. 2d 1120, 1127 (M.D. Ala. 2006) ("In [ Finley ], the Court concluded that its analysis in Ross v. Moffitt [417 U.S. 600, 94 S.Ct. 2437, 41 L.Ed.2d 341......
1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 93 No. 5, May 2018
    • May 1, 2018
    ...U.S. at 821. (203) Id. (204) Id. at 828. (205) Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351 (quoting Bounds, 430 U.S. at 825); see also Barbour v. Haley, 410 F. Supp. 2d 1120, 1129 (M.D. Ala. 2006) ("Lewis explained that the right of access established in Bounds is not nearly so generous as the Bounds Court seem......

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