ABA urges high court to allow equitable review

  this week urging the U.S. Supreme Court to

accept the case of Paul A. Howell v. Secretary,

Florida Department of Corrections  and reverse a

lower court’s ruling that barred federal court

review of the constitutionality of Howell’s state

conviction and sentence. Howell is currently

scheduled to be executed on Feb. 26.

The ABA asserts that the U.S. Court of

Appeals for the 11th Circuit erred when it denied

Howell’s motion to allow reconsideration of the

procedural bar, which prevented the review of

Howell’s constitutional claims. The procedural

bar was the result of his state-appointed, postconviction

attorney’s egregious error in failing to

meet a federal court filing deadline.

The ABA urges the Supreme Court to remand

with instructions that the unique circumstances of

Howell’s case be considered, including the failures

of his appointed counsel, the documented

deficiencies in Florida’s capital counsel appointment

system during the relevant time period and

the finality of the death penalty.

“The ABA has concluded that a capital defendant

should not be denied a meaningful opportunity

for review of the constitutionality of his or

her conviction because of a procedural default

caused by egregious counsel error or a court’s

misapprehension of the law,” the brief reads.

“Where human life is at stake the federal courts’

ability to reach and determine the merits of federal

constitutional claims should be at the maximum.”

The ABA takes no position on the death penalty

itself. However, since 1989, the ABA has

maintained policy that sets out principles meant to

ensure that those sentenced to death have a full,

fair and counseled opportunity to present the merits

of their constitutional challenges to a federal

court. Over the past two decades, the ABA has

conducted studies and assessments documenting

deficiencies in Florida’s capital counsel systems.


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