Inmate vs. Attorney

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Q: I was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  Despite my many letters, my court-appointed attorney failed to file a federal petition for habeas corpus on time.  I guess he had not done the research necessary to find out the proper filing date.  I say the statute of limitations should be suspended for the time that I had this so-called attorney, on the basis of his unprofessional conduct.  Can it be?

A: It sounds like your attorney’s conduct constituted far more than ‘excusable’ neglect.  The fundamental canons of professional responsibility require an attorney to perform reasonably competent legal work, to communicate with his or her client, to implement the client’s reasonable requests, to keep the client informed of key developments in the case, and never to abandon a client.

The canons are no less serious for a public defender.  Your attorney’s failures cost you what was likely your single opportunity for federal habeas review of the lawfulness of your imprisonment and of your death sentence.  So I think that the statute of limitations can be suspended for you.

However, no inmate should ever bank on getting a suspension of the statute because of attorney neglect.  Although no one likes to be a ‘pain’, the inmate does best when he or she tries to stay connected to the legal activities by writing letters to the attorney seeking crucial information and providing direction, by contacting the state courts, their clerks and the bar association on his or her own and by trying to get a new attorney, if need be.

If ever an inmate discovers that some clock has expired due to an attorney’s failings, that inmate promptly should prepare his or her own papers pro se for immediate filing with the court, and only afterwards – after attempting, at least, to file these pro se papers – take a breath to seek suspension of the statute.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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