U.S. Supreme Court Upholds New Trial for Alabama Death Row Inmate


The United States Supreme Court on January 23, 2012, denied the State of Alabama’s request for review in the case of Thomas Lane, who was granted a new trial by the Alabama appellate courts because he was denied his right to counsel.

On February 5, 2010, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Mr. Lane’s capital murder conviction and death sentence because the trial court removed Mr. Lane’s lawyer after the prosecutor said he wanted to call the lawyer as a witness.

EJI argued on appeal that Mr. Lane’s attorney was not a necessary witness and the trial court’s unjustified removal of the lawyer violated Mr. Lane’s Sixth Amendment right to continued representation by his counsel of choice. EJI argued that this Sixth Amendment violation is the type of serious structural error that automatically requires reversal.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, finding that the trial court erred in removing Mr. Lane’s chosen counsel, and that error “seriously affected the fairness and integrity of the judicial proceedings.”

Because Mr. Lane was wrongly denied his right to counsel of choice under the Sixth Amendment, the appeals court reversed his convictions and his sentence of death and ordered a new trial in the case.

The State appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which affirmed the appeals court’s decision.

The State then asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case. The Court’s decision last week to deny review leaves intact the state court’s decision granting Mr. Lane a new trial.