Wednesday, September 30, 2009

John Couey may be dead, but is his appeal?

John Evander Couey, the man convicted of murdering Jessica "Jessica's Law" Lunsford, died today, a mere two years after he was sentenced to death. Being an appellate attorney, my first thought was, "His direct appeal must still be pending." And, sure enough, a quick check of the Florida Supreme Court's docket shows that the briefs have been filed and oral argument is set for November 3.

In Kansas, that oral argument would proceed as scheduled. A direct appeal here continues even after the defendant dies. Sentencing issues become moot, of course, but the conviction issues remain. As his appointed lawyer, I would be as ethically obligated to zealously advocate for reversal of a dead client's conviction as I would be for a live one.

I might have to do a little research to find out what the rule is in Florida. I suspect that if his appeal does continue, that might raise some hackles. I'm sure it would seem like an awful waste of time, money, and resources to pursue the criminal appeal of a dead man. Personally, though, I love that Kansas recognizes the value in still reviewing those cases. An appeal doesn't require a defendant's presence; it's purely a chance for lawyers and appellate courts to argue over whether the trial was conducted fairly and properly. Those issues don't become irrelevant just because the defendant has died. (By contrast, issues related solely to sentencing or issues raised in post-appeal motions, like habeas corpus motions, are irrelevant because they focus on whether and how the state should hold the defendant.)

If anyone knows the rule in Florida, let me know.

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