On October 4, 2011, the United Supreme Court began its new term and heard oral arguments on seven cases. Because the Supreme Court’s opinions are considered the Supreme law of the land, its decisions will impact San Antonio and the entire Texas criminal justice system. Three of the cases deal directly with defendants serving time in state prisons – two cases concern inadequate representation and the third concerns Miranda rights. They are all seeking release on the grounds that they are being held in violation of their federally protected constitutional rights. While the oral arguments are over, the opinion from the court is to be determined.
Maples v. Thomas raises the question of whether or not a defendant can argue that a death sentence is unconstitutional because the lawyer messed up and did not file paperwork on time. The Eleventh Circuit court ruled that there was no reason to excuse the case. Maples confessed to the murders he is now serving time for, but he argues that his lawyers were so ineffective that he missed a deadline to appeal the ruling. Two lawyers had taken on Maples’ post-conviction proceedings Pro Bono. At some point after taking on the case, they both got new jobs at different law firms. They failed to contact the court, and important paperwork that was mailed to their old law firm was returned, unopened. The court then failed to try to make any further contact with the lawyers or with Maples. Thus he missed necessary deadlines, and by the time he found out about the mistake it was too late for him to correct it. In other words, his right to appeal was violated because lawyers quit the case without informing the court and the Eleventh Circuit court upheld that Maples had defaulted on his claims when he missed deadlines.
Howes v. Fields asks whether Miranda warnings must be read to a prisoner when being questioned because a prisoner is considered already in custody. Randall Fields is serving time on one crime when he was taken from his cell to another part of a prison and questioned by police officers about an unrelated crime. He was never read his rights and he argues that information obtained in that questioning session should not have been used against him in the trial that followed. If police officers do not to read a Miranda warning to a person, they can still question that person but cannot use that person’s statements against them in a criminal trial. So, the question is: If a person must be read their rights if they are in custody, is a prisoner automatically in custody and therefore entitled to the Miranda warning according to the Fifth Amendment?