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Prison Mailbox Rule Applies to Alabama Sentence Reconsideration Motions

The Alabama Supreme Court held last year that the prison mailbox rule applies to a motion for sentence reconsideration under former state law.

Alabama Code § 13A-5-9.1 authorized the filing of a motion for sentence reconsideration, but the state legislature repealed that provision effective March 13, 2014. The repeal bill provided that it was prospective only, and any motion filed before the effective date would not be affected.

On March 6, 2014, prisoner Joe Louis Spencer filed a motion for sentence reconsideration under § 13A-5-9.1. However, for reasons not specified, the circuit court clerk did not receive his motion for over a year, on March 23, 2015.

The court denied Spencer’s motion several days later because it was filed after the repeal cut-off date of March 13, 2014. Spencer sought reconsideration, arguing that he was entitled to the benefit of the prison mailbox rule, which would deem his motion filed when he placed it in the prison’s mail system on March 6, 2014. The circuit court denied his motion but did not address the applicability of the mailbox rule, which was originally set forth in Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 108 S.Ct. 2379 (1988).

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the denial, holding that under Ex parte Allen, 825 So.2d 271 (Ala. 2002), the mailbox rule applies only to time-sensitive pleadings. One appellate judge dissented, arguing “that the repeal of § 13A-5-9.1 created a deadline that did warrant application of the prison-mailbox rule.”

The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding that the dissenting judge’s “position is correct and that it is consistent with the compelling policy behind the judicially created prison-mailbox rule.” The Court held that Spencer’s case in fact “involve[d] a deadline and that the prison-mailbox rule applies.”

The Supreme Court noted, however, that Spencer must “prove on remand that he did deposit his motion in the prison mail system on March 6, 2014, as he alleges, and that he complied with all applicable requirements.” See: Spencer v. State, 2016 Ala. LEXIS 106 (Ala. 2016). 

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Related legal case

Spencer v. State