The U.S. Supreme Court blends law with common sense.
Defendants are typically held responsible for the mistakes of their lawyers when it comes to missing legal deadlines. But there are mistakes, and there are real whoppers.
An Alabama death row inmate faced execution after his high-powered, volunteer lawyers from a prestigious New York law firm withdrew from the case, essentially abandoning their client, and let a deadline pass for appealing his conviction.
Rather than allow Cory Maples to face execution because of what Justice Sam Alito described as a "veritable perfect storm of misfortune," the U.S. Supreme Court this week ordered a new hearing.
As Justice Antonin Scalia noted, this entire case could have been avoided if the state of Alabama had waived its deadline in this one case, a perfectly reasonable move considering the circumstances. Because Alabama stubbornly and vindictively refused, the court's majority felt justified in doing what it deemed the right thing rather than rigidly follow rules that laid the groundwork for Maples' execution.
This is an ugly case. Maples was convicted of a 1995 execution-style double murder. Even more ugly would have been to let an execution proceed because the hapless defendant's lawyers failed in their duties to their client.