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January 01, 2014

ABA Urges SCOTUS to Review Case of Florida Death Row Prisoner Barred from Federal Review

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief today urging the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case ofPaul 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 February 26, 2014.

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, post-conviction 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.

The ABA's Howell amicus brief is available online here.

The information and views provided in the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Death Penalty Representation Project’s blog do not constitute official statements by the ABA and do not represent official ABA policy. For more information, please visit our policy and statement pages.