Alabama Supreme Court Will Review Right to Counsel for Death Row Prisoners on Appeal


On October 31, 2008, Equal Justice Initiative attorneys filed a brief in the Alabama Supreme Court on behalf of Alabama death row inmate Michael Carruth, in which it argued that Mr. Carruth is entitled to an out-of-time appeal because the lawyer appointed to represent him on the appeal of his conviction failed to file a mandatory petition for review in the Alabama Supreme Court.

Alabama law requires counsel in a death penalty case to file a petition in the Alabama Supreme Court. Mr. Carruth’s appointed counsel abandoned him by failing to file that petition, and did not provide notice to any court or to Mr. Carruth of his default.

Because counsel’s failure to appeal completely denied Mr. Carruth review by the Alabama Supreme Court, EJI is now argueing that Mr. Carruth is entitled to an out-of-time appeal to that court.

A trial judge granted Mr. Carruth an out-of-time appeal in August 2007, but the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed that ruling in May 2008. The appeals court ruled that Mr. Carruth had no right to counsel to appeal to the state supreme court. That decision makes Alabama the only state in the country that does not require legal assistance for death-sentenced defendants on direct appeal to the state’s highest court.

On October 17, 2008, the Alabama Supreme Court granted a petition filed by EJI, and asked for briefing on the right to counsel for death row prisoners on direct appeal.