Linda Greenhouse - one of the Supreme Court's most attentive observers - is mystified at the unexpected display of compassion by usually hard-line members of the court in the case of a death row inmate whose lawyers neglected a deadline. She speculates what may underlie C.J. Roberts and Associate Justices Kennedy and Alito's decision to join Justice Ruth Ginsburg's opinion to grant relief. - GWCSecond Chances - NYTimes.com:
by Linda Greenhouse
"The Supreme Court’s decision last week giving an Alabama death-row inmate who was abandoned by his lawyers a second chance at an appeal has been justly celebrated. The 7-to-2 decision in Maples v. Thomas was a welcome display of compassion by a substantial majority of the Roberts court – for which compassion (dare I say empathy?) is not a descriptor that often springs to mind.
The inmate, Cory R. Maples, convicted of killing two drinking companions during a night on the town, had been represented during a state-court appeals process by two volunteer lawyers from the white-shoe law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. The lawyers left the firm in mid-stream for new jobs without informing either their client or the court. Unbeknownst to Mr. Maples, the 42-day period for filing a notice of appeal expired, thus creating a “procedural default” that disqualified him from seeking a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. “In these circumstances, no just system would lay the default at Maples’ death-cell door,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority. Only Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented."
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