Alabama Death Sentence the Result of Systemic Problems with Indigent Defense, TCP Tells 11th Circuit

The Constitution Project has asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to consider whether the death sentence imposed on an Alabama man was the result of a systemic deprivation of the right to counsel in capital cases.  In a friend-of-the-court brief filed July 7, TCP argues that Cory Maples’ court-appointed lawyers lacked the necessary training and experience to try a capital case, and were not compensated enough by the state to mount an effective defense.

“[T]he egregious errors of omission and commission by Mr. Maples’ counsel in the investigation, trial, and penalty phase were largely a byproduct of inexperience, under-compensation, and lack of supervision, all of which flowed inevitably from the systemic defects of the Alabama indigent defense system,” TCP wrote in its brief.

“As a result, the imposition of the death penalty was almost certainly caused by the very system that should have provided Mr. Maples an adequate defense as guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” TCP’s brief argues.

Maples was convicted in 1997 of killing two acquaintances after a night of drinking.  He is not contesting his guilt.  During the sentencing phase of his trial, the jury recommended death by a 10 to 2 vote, the minimum required under Alabama law.  Alabama is one of only three states that permit the imposition of capital punishment with a less than unanimous jury.

Maples’ attorneys acknowledged their inexperience during his trial, telling the jury that they “may appear to be stumbling around in the dark.”  They did not try to convince the jury that their client was not responsible for his actions because of excessive drug and alcohol use for ten hours preceding the shooting.  Nor did they present any other mitigating evidence, normally the centerpiece of a defense in the sentencing phase of a capital case, in part because state law at the time capped their compensation for out-of-court work at a paltry $1,000.

“The errors of counsel in failing to investigate, develop, and present any meaningful mitigation case at sentencing are particularly egregious and violate Mr. Maples’ right to effective assistance of counsel. Had this evidence been presented, it is almost certain that at least one more juror would have joined the two who voted against the death penalty, sparing Mr. Maples’ life,” TCP’s brief asserts.

The case is Maples v. Dunn (No. 15-14586).  The brief was prepared with the generous pro bono assistance of Venable LLP.

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