Supreme Court hears arguments on death penalty, right to counsel, Miranda

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in three cases on Tuesday. In Maples v. Thomas [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court considered a death penalty appeal where Cory Maples missed his ability to appeal his sentence due to a clerk's error. An Alabama trial court had dismissed Maples' petition for post-conviction relief and sent notice of this ruling to his out-of-state attorneys, but the notice was returned to the court unopened because the attorneys had changed firms. The court's clerk did not attempt to notify his attorneys again. The clerk did, however, notify Maples' in-state attorney who neither acted nor notified the attorneys who were more directly involved in his case. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held the state of Alabama may execute Cory Maples without federal habeas review of his constitutional claims. Maples' attorney argued that he effectively had no local counsel, thus the lack of proper notification to his true counsel, who had never withdrawn, was a clear error. The state of Alabama argued that the notice was adequate and claimed that the local attorney had enough of a role to adequately appeal for Maples.

In Martinez v. Ryan [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether, when arguing prior ineffective counsel, an appellant has the right to new counsel provided by the state. Typically, the constitutional right to counsel ends after the first post-conviction appeal. But appellant Luis Martinez wanted to argue his trial attorney was ineffective after his appeal and asked that the state of Arizona provide him counsel for this. This proceeding, under Arizona law, mandates a separate trial court and is to be made between conviction and appeal. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that since there is no right to appointment of counsel during a defendant's post-conviction relief petition, there is no right to effective assistance of counsel. Martinez's attorney argued that this narrow window deprives his client of constitutional right to counsel and that counsel should be extended to any "first-tier review issue," especially considering evidence of attorney negligence could present years after the trial. The state of Arizona brought up the costs and impracticality of the rule: "This Court has never—has never said that every claim that can only be raised for the first time entitles someone to—to counsel. And that exception, that would—that would swallow the rule."

Finally, in Howes v. Fields [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on how far to extend the Miranda privilege in jail. Randall Fields was questioned by investigators about a child sex-abuse case while he was in the county jail serving a 45-day sentence for disorderly conduct. A lower court found that Fields did not have to be given his Miranda rights because the investigators were questioning him about a separate crime. This decision was reversed by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, holding that Miranda is necessary anytime the suspect is isolated from the rest of the jail inmates in a situation where the suspect would be likely to incriminate himself. The state of Michigan argued that since Fields invoked his right to return to his cell, despite being confined in jail, a reasonable person in jail being taken to an interrogation room would have understood it was an interrogation and Miranda was unnecessary:

You know, it's so coercive to take an 8-year-old child to the principal's office with an officer to question him, that per se is always going to be some child version of the Miranda rule. Or if you had someone in the hospital and they were in such a position that they were physically unable to leave. But we don't do that. We don't have a hospital Miranda rule. There shouldn't be one in prison, either. We should just take all the circumstances into account.
Michigan's attorney also argued against a new per se rule that was created by the Sixth Circuit rather than applying the traditional "all the circumstances" test for Miranda. Fields' attorney contended that he felt no freedom to leave and that in a prison or jail situation, a reasonable person would not feel a freedom to leave without being read Miranda rights in that situation.

 

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