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Post-Conviction Relief

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//May 12, 2024//

Post-Conviction Relief

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//May 12, 2024//

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Robert Pope v. Je’Leslie Taylor

Case No.: 23-2894

Officials: Easterbrook, Rovner, and Jackson-Akiwumi, Circuit Judges.

Focus:  Post-Conviction Relief

In 1996, Pope received a conviction for murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Seeking post-conviction relief, Pope’s attorney, Michael J. Backes, neglected his case, failing to take the necessary steps to safeguard Pope’s rights. After 14 months of inaction, Pope turned to Wisconsin’s public defender for assistance, only to learn that he required a court of appeals extension first. However, his request was denied by the court of appeals, citing undue delay. Seeking recourse from the trial court, Pope faced another setback as his request was rejected based on the appellate decision. Despite numerous efforts to reinstate his appeal rights, all endeavors proved fruitless until 2016 when the state acknowledged his right to an appeal.

In 2017, Pope’s hopes for a new trial were dashed when the state court of appeals and the Supreme Court of Wisconsin overturned a decision, citing the absence of a trial transcript. This transcript was not ordered by Pope’s lawyer and was subsequently destroyed. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin outlined that a new trial, hinging on the absence of a transcript, is warranted only if the defendant initially presents a “facially valid claim of arguably prejudicial error” that necessitates a transcript for validation. Given Pope’s non-legal background and limited recollection of the events from 1996, he was unable to meet this requirement.

In the Seventh Circuit, Pope filed a collateral review petition under 28 U.S.C. §2254. The district court issued a conditional writ, directing the state to release Pope unless a retrial was initiated within six months. Upon the state’s appeal, the deadline was deferred. However, the Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision, with modifications, stipulating deadlines for Pope’s release on bail and unconditional release if a trial failed to commence within the specified timeframes. The court highlighted that Pope endured at least two violations of his constitutional rights: the right to legal counsel’s assistance and the right to an appeal equivalent to those accessible to well-resourced litigants.

Affirmed.

Decided 05/06/24

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