Blame the Lawyers

Usually, clients are accountable for their lawyers’ errors because lawyers are their “agents,” but death row inmates might get different treatment; they usually don’t select or pay for lawyers — and the stakes are so high. Alabama, though, sees the problem stoically, according to a January New York Times story. When an Alabama death row inmate misses an appeals-filing deadline only due to a lawyer’s error (in murder client Ronald Smith’s case, because lawyer C. Wade Johnson was an often-incapacitated methamphetamine addict), the client forgoes the appeal. Smith’s case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Alabama’s still the only state where judges overrule juries and impose the death penalty instead of life in prison.