Criminal Law: Post-Conviction Constitutional Challenge Delayed, Accused Executed

Frequently, being convicted of a crime is only the start of the process to clear your name. Often, some significant error in the evidence or in the handling of the trial creates an injustice. In other cases, there may be reason to challenge a law applying to your conviction or sentence saying that it is unconstitutional.

The death penalty is an extraordinarily controversial topic. While many support the death penalty, 37% of Americans oppose capital punishment according to Gallup. Because of this controversy and the high personal stakes involved, many death row inmates go to great lengths in attempting to have their executions delayed or overturned.

In order to reduce the cost on the legal system, Alabama imposes many barriers to those convicted of crimes who are seeking relief. For starters, the accused only have forty-two days after their conviction to file an appeal. Generally, any right to appeal outside that timeframe comes in the form of petition for post-conviction relief, or what is called a Rule 32 petition.

In a recent case, a high-profile death row inmate named Thomas Douglas Arthur faced imminent execution. In an effort to stave off the execution, Mr. Arthur filed suit in Montgomery Circuit Court seeking to have the death penalty law declared unconstitutional. Stating that the court believed the suit should have been filed as a Rule 32 petition, the circuit court dismissed the suit.

The next day, Mr. Arthur appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. After a couple more transfers, the case ended up with the Court of Criminal Appeals. During the transfer process, the Supreme Court noted that the case was effectively an attempt for relief from conviction, just like a Rule 32 petition.

The appeals court agreed and effectively transformed the case into a Rule 32 petition. However, Rule 32 petitions have to be filed in the court in which the accused was convicted. Since Mr. Arthur was convicted in Jefferson County, the suit filed in Montgomery County had to be transferred to Jefferson. Further, Mr. Arthur had a petition under review in Jefferson County, so the one reviewed by the appeals court was delayed until the previous petition was resolved. Mr. Arthur was executed on May 25th, 2017, by lethal injection.

Finding the best defense for your case, even after conviction, is very important. If you are charged with a crime and need a criminal lawyer, contact Ingram Law LLC, at (205) 335-2640.