TCP Asks Supreme Court for Procedural Relief in Case of Attorney Abandonment

On June 26, The Constitution Project filed a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a grant of certiorari in the case of Perez v. Stephens, involving a prisoner, Louis Castro Perez, under a death sentence in Texas.  In this case, Perez – through no fault of his own – was denied review by the 5th Circuit because of his attorney abandoned him during his federal habeas proceeding.

This case stems from a tragic, multiple murder in Texas, which Perez has consistently maintained he did not commit.  After the Texas state courts upheld his conviction and death sentence, he filed for relief in federal court. The federal district court denied his petition, but authorized Perez to file for relief in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Perez’s lawyer, however, failed to inform him that he had a right to appeal, and instead made the unilateral decision not to pursue any further recourse.  Perez did not again hear from his attorney until after the deadline to appeal and the deadline to request an extension to act had passed.  His attorney later admitted that the failure to appeal was “[d]ue to no fault of Petitioner,” and that if she had not abandoned Perez, she would have learned that he wanted to pursue an appeal.

TCP’s brief argues that the Court should grant certiorari in order to determine that attorney abandonment is an “extraordinary circumstance” that may excuse a procedural default caused by the abandonment during the federal proceedings.  This case is a corollary to the Court’s holding in Maples v. Thomas, 132 S. Ct. 912, 924 (2012), in which that Court held that attorney abandonment may excuse procedural default during state habeas proceedings.  TCP’s brief asks the Court to extend Maples protections to federal proceedings as well.

TCP is grateful to Greg Garre and his team at Latham & Watkins who provided pro bono counsel in the researching, drafting and filing of TCP’s brief.

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