Alabama Supreme Court Rejects Dismissal of Death Row Inmate’s Appeal Based on Purportedly Invalid Signature on Notice of Appeal


The Alabama Supreme Court reinstated death row inmate Jarrod Taylor’s appeal from the dismissal of his Rule 32 petition and held that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in dismissing Mr. Taylor’s appeal based on purported problems with his volunteer lawyer’s signature on the notice of appeal.

Because the State of Alabama does not provide postconviction counsel to death row inmates, attorneys from out-of-state volunteered to represent Mr. Taylor in his Rule 32 proceedings in 2002. At the time, they applied for pro hac vice status with the State Bar of Alabama. (“Pro hac vice status” means that the Bar has given permission to an out-of-state lawyer to handle a specific case in Alabama.)

According to the case action summary, counsel’s application was granted in September 2002. The trial judge confirmed in a February 2003 hearing that the pro hac vice application had been approved by the court and assured out-of-state counsel: “[W]e are procedurally in correct order as it relates your representation of the defendant in these proceedings.” The State did not object to counsel’s pro hac vice admission.

Mr. Taylor’s Rule 32 petition was dismissed in August 2005. His counsel timely filed a notice of appeal, which was signed by out-of- state pro bono attorney Theodore Wells.

The State moved to dismiss Mr. Taylor’s appeal on the ground that Attorney Wells allegedly was not admitted pro hac vice. In January 2006, the Court of Criminal Appeals issued an order removing Wells as counsel of record because “a question has now arisen as to whether or not Attorney Wells has ever been admitted to practice before the trial court pro hac vice.” Later, after finding that Attorney Wells had not been admitted pro hac vice, the court dismissed Mr. Taylor’s appeal.

Mr. Taylor’s pro bono lawyers appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, and EJI filed a supporting amicus brief.

On January 18, 2008, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals, holding that Mr. Taylor’s notice of appeal was valid because “the intention to appeal from a specific judgment may be reasonably inferred from the text of the notice.” The Supreme Court refused to consider information outside the record (namely, what the criminal appeals court clerk learned by calling the state bar) and stated: “To dismiss Taylor’s appeal based on the peculiar facts in this case would be to elevate form over substance.”

Moreover, the court found that the trial court record – the case action summary and trial court’s statements at the February 2003 hearing – supports Mr. Taylor’s contention that Attorney Wells and his other out-of-state pro bono lawyers were, indeed, granted pro hac vice admission: “Although the Court of Criminal Appeals relied upon a 2006 statement prepared by the State and signed by the trial court, this statement appears to be incorrect.”