Friday, March 30, 2007
Alabama is the only state that does not provide attorneys for indigent death row inmates throughout their state appeal. Lawyers representing some of those on death row in the state will soon ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case challenging this practice. The attorneys will ask the Court to determine whether people facing execution have a constitutional right to an attorney as part of their right of meaningful access to the courts. Alabama maintains that it should be able to go it alone in this area despite the life and death risks at stake.
In Alabama, where 200 people are on death row and few have legal training or money to hire attorneys, a judge has the option, but is not required, to appoint an attorney who can assist those facing execution. The cap on compensation for this court-appointed attorney is $1,000, which must cover expenses associated with hundreds of hours of work that goes into a habeas petition. This means that many Alabama defense attorneys must agree to receive less than the minimum wage for the hours they spend reviewing the trial transcript and appellate record, conducting witness interviews, and completing other investigation and extensive legal research. If those on death row are forced to represent themselves, they have only one year to master the state's rules of criminal procedure, conduct investigations from prison, and prepare and file their own petitions for post-conviction relief. More. . . [Michele Berry]