Maples v. Thomas

Decision Date18 January 2012
Docket NumberNo. 10–63.,10–63.
Citation181 L.Ed.2d 807,565 U.S. 266,132 S.Ct. 912
Parties Cory R. MAPLES, Petitioner v. Kim T. THOMAS, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Gregory G. Garre, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

John C. Neiman, Jr., Solicitor General, Montgomery, AL, for Respondent.

Gregory G. Garre, Counsel of Record, J. Scott Ballenger, Derek D. Smith, Michael E. Bern, Latham & Watkins LLP, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Nicholas Q. Rosenkranz, Deputy Attorney General, Washington, DC, Luther Strange, Attorney General, John C. Neiman, Jr., Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, William G. Parker, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Alabama Attorney General, Montgomery, AL, for Respondent.

Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.

Cory R. Maples is an Alabama capital prisoner sentenced to death in 1997 for the murder of two individuals. At trial, he was represented by two appointed lawyers, minimally paid and with scant experience in capital cases. Maples sought postconviction relief in state court, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and several other trial infirmities. His petition, filed in August 2001, was written by two New York attorneys serving pro bono, both associated with the same New York-based large law firm. An Alabama attorney, designated as local counsel, moved the admission of the out-of-state counsel pro hac vice . As understood by New York counsel, local counsel would facilitate their appearance, but would undertake no substantive involvement in the case.

In the summer of 2002, while Maples' postconviction petition remained pending in the Alabama trial court, his New York attorneys left the law firm; their new employment disabled them from continuing to represent Maples. They did not inform Maples of their departure and consequent inability to serve as his counsel. Nor did they seek the Alabama trial court's leave to withdraw. Neither they nor anyone else moved for the substitution of counsel able to handle Maples' case.

In May 2003, the Alabama trial court denied Maples' petition. Notices of the court's order were posted to the New York attorneys at the address of the law firm with which they had been associated. Those postings were returned, unopened, to the trial court clerk, who attempted no further mailing. With no attorney of record in fact acting on Maples' behalf, the time to appeal ran out.

Thereafter, Maples petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The District Court and, in turn, the Eleventh Circuit, rejected his petition, pointing to the procedural default in state court, i.e ., Maples' failure timely to appeal the Alabama trial court's order denying him postconviction relief. Maples, it is uncontested, was blameless for the default.

The sole question this Court has taken up for review is whether, on the extraordinary facts of Maples' case, there is "cause" to excuse the default. Maples maintains that there is, for the lawyers he believed to be vigilantly representing him had abandoned the case without leave of court, without informing Maples they could no longer represent him, and without securing any recorded substitution of counsel. We agree. Abandoned by counsel, Maples was left unrepresented at a critical time for his state postconviction petition, and he lacked a clue of any need to protect himself pro se . In these circumstances, no just system would lay the default at Maples' death-cell door. Satisfied that the requisite cause has been shown, we reverse the Eleventh Circuit's judgment.


Alabama sets low eligibility requirements for lawyers appointed to represent indigent capital defendants at trial. American Bar Association, Evaluating Fairness and Accuracy in State Death Penalty Systems: The Alabama Death Penalty Assessment Report 117–120 (June 2006) (hereinafter ABA Report); Brief for Alabama Appellate Court Justices et al. as Amici Curiae 7–8 (hereinafter Justices Brief). Appointed counsel need only be a member of the Alabama bar and have "five years' prior experience in the active practice of criminal law." Ala.Code § 13A–5–54 (2006). Experience with capital cases is not required. Justices Brief 7–8. Nor does the State provide, or require appointed counsel to gain, any capital-case-specific professional education or training. ABA Report 129–131; Justices Brief 14–16.

Appointed counsel in death penalty cases are also undercompensated. ABA Report 124–129; Justices Brief 12–14. Until 1999, the State paid appointed capital defense attorneys just "$40.00 per hour for time expended in court and $20.00 per hour for time reasonably expended out of court in the preparation of [the defendant's] case." Ala.Code § 15–12–21(d) (1995). Although death penalty litigation is plainly time intensive,1 the State capped at $1,000 fees recoverable by capital defense attorneys for out-of-court work. Ibid.2 Even today, court-appointed attorneys receive only $70 per hour. 2011 Ala. Acts no. 2011–678, pp. 1072–1073, § 6.

Nearly alone among the States, Alabama does not guarantee representation to indigent capital defendants in postconviction proceedings. ABA Report 111–112, 158–160; Justices Brief 33. The State has elected, instead, "to rely on the efforts of typically well-funded [out-of-state] volunteers." Brief in Opposition in Barbour v. Allen, O.T.2006, No. 06–10605, p. 23. Thus, as of 2006, 86% of the attorneys representing Alabama's death row inmates in state collateral review proceedings "either worked for the Equal Justice Initiative (headed by NYU Law professor Bryan Stevenson), out-of-state public interest groups like the Innocence Project, or an out-of-state mega-firm." Brief in Opposition 16, n. 4. On occasion, some prisoners sentenced to death receive no postconviction representation at all. See ABA Report 112 ("[A]s of April 2006, approximately fifteen of Alabama's death row inmates in the final rounds of state appeals had no lawyer to represent them.").


This system was in place when, in 1997, Alabama charged Maples with two counts of capital murder; the victims, Stacy Alan Terry and Barry Dewayne Robinson II, were Maples' friends who, on the night of the murders, had been out on the town with him. Maples pleaded not guilty, and his case proceeded to trial, where he was represented by two court-appointed Alabama attorneys. Only one of them had earlier served in a capital case. See Tr. 3081. Neither counsel had previously tried the penalty phase of a capital case. Compensation for each lawyer was capped at $1,000 for time spent out-of-court preparing Maples' case, and at $40 per hour for in-court services. See Ala.Code § 15–12–21 (1995).

Finding Maples guilty on both counts, the jury recommended that he be sentenced to death. The vote was 10 to 2, the minimum number Alabama requires for a death recommendation. See Ala.Code § 13A–5–46(f) (1994) ("The decision of the jury to recommend a sentence of death must be based on a vote of at least 10 jurors."). Accepting the jury's recommendation, the trial court sentenced Maples to death.

On direct appeal, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentence. Ex parte Maples, 758 So.2d 81 (Ala.1999) ; Maples v. State, 758 So.2d 1 (Ala.Crim.App.1999). We denied certiorari. Maples v. Alabama, 531 U.S. 830, 121 S.Ct. 83, 148 L.Ed.2d 45 (2000).

Two out-of-state volunteers represented Maples in postconviction proceedings: Jaasi Munanka and Clara Ingen–Housz, both associates at the New York offices of the Sullivan & Cromwell law firm. At the time, Alabama required out-of-state attorneys to associate local counsel when seeking admission to practice pro hac vice before an Alabama court, regardless of the nature of the proceeding. Rule Governing Admission to the Ala. State Bar VII (2000) (hereinafter Rule VII).3 The Alabama Rule further prescribed that the local attorney's name "appear on all notices, orders, pleadings, and other documents filed in the cause," and that local counsel "accept joint and several responsibility with the foreign attorney to the client, to opposing parties and counsel, and to the court or administrative agency in all matters [relating to the case]." Rule VII(C).

Munanka and Ingen–Housz associated Huntsville, Alabama attorney John Butler as local counsel. Notwithstanding his obligations under Alabama law, Butler informed Munanka and Ingen–Housz, "at the outset," that he would serve as local counsel only for the purpose of allowing the two New York attorneys to appear pro hac vice on behalf of Maples. App. to Pet. for Cert. 255a. Given his lack of "resources, available time [and] experience," Butler told the Sullivan & Cromwell lawyers, he could not "deal with substantive issues in the case." Ibid. The Sullivan & Cromwell attorneys accepted Butler's conditions. Id., at 257a. This arrangement between out-of-state and local attorneys, it appears, was hardly atypical. See Justices Brief 36 ("The fact is that local counsel for out-of-state attorneys in post-conviction litigation most often do nothing other than provide the mechanism for foreign attorneys to be admitted.").

With the aid of his pro bono counsel, Maples filed a petition for postconviction relief under Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.4 Among other claims, Maples asserted that his court-appointed attorneys provided constitutionally ineffective assistance during both guilt and penalty phases of his capital trial. App. 29–126. He alleged, in this regard, that his inexperienced and underfunded attorneys failed to develop and raise an obvious intoxication defense, did not object to several egregious instances of prosecutorial misconduct, and woefully underprepared for the penalty phase of his trial. The State responded by moving for summary dismissal of Maples' petition. On December 27, 2001, the trial court denied the State's motion.

Some seven months later, in the summer of 2002, both Munanka and Ingen–Housz left ...

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