In an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court held that where, under state law, ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims must be raised in an initial-review collateral proceeding, a procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing those claims if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Thomas.
"Court Ruling Could Affect Texas Death Row Cases," is Brandi Grissom's Texas Tribune report on the case and its implications.
Death row inmate Jesse Joe Hernandez, set to be executed next week for the 2001 death of a 10-month-old boy in Dallas, is hoping that a ruling Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court could give him another chance to prove that the tragedy was not entirely his fault.
The nation’s highest court ruled that the failure of initial state habeas lawyers to argue that their client’s trial counsel was ineffective should not prevent the defendant from making that argument later on. Lawyers across the country, including those for at least two Texas death row inmates, were eagerly awaiting the court’s ruling in the Martinez v. Ryan case out of Arizona, which could expand appeals access for inmates.
“A procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing those claims if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in the proceeding was ineffective,” the court majority held.
Habeas lawyers investigate issues that could or should have been raised during a defendant’s original trial.
Brad Levenson, director of the Texas Office of Capital Writs, filed a petition with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday afternoon on behalf of Hernandez, arguing that his March 28 execution should be stayed, in part, because of the court’s ruling.
Levenson said that even though Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling applies to claims made in federal court — not state writs like the one he filed — the same principle ought to apply.
“We’re saying the state courts should also take a look at these claims for the same reason the Supreme Court would take a look at them,” he said.
The ruling could also be a boon for death row inmate Rob Will, who was convicted in 2002 of fatally shooting a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. Will says that the man he was with that night was the real shooter and that he is innocent.
In January, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison denied Will’s pleas for a new trial but wrote that he lamented doing so because of “disturbing uncertainties” raised about his guilt.
"Supreme Court Rules for Inmate With Double Claims of Ineffective Assistance; Scalia Detects a ‘Sham’," is Debra Cassens Weiss's ABA Journal report.
A prisoner who claimed he received ineffective assistance at trial and once again at his first opportunity to raise the claim on review got some help from the U.S. Supreme Court today.
The court, in an opinion (PDF) by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, refused to address whether convicted sex offender Luis Mariano Martinez had a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel in the state collateral appeal. But the court held in a 7-2 opinion that ineffective assistance by the appellate lawyer could excuse Martinez’s failure to raise the ineffective assistance claim, allowing a federal court to consider the issue.
“When an attorney errs in initial-review collateral proceedings, it is likely that no state court at any level will hear the prisoner’s claim,” Kennedy said. “And if counsel’s errors in an initial-review collateral proceeding do not establish cause to excuse the procedural default in a federal habeas proceeding, no court will review the prisoner’s claims. The same is not true when counsel errs in other kinds of postconviction proceedings.”
In a statement released Tuesday, ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III applauded the decision. “This significant ruling will help ensure fairness and justice for many criminal defendants throughout the country, including those on death row,” he said. “Many defendants who received ineffective representation or no representation at all during their post-conviction proceedings have been unable to present claims concerning violations of their constitutional rights at trial in federal court. The court’s decision today recognizes the injustice of that circumstance.”
Courthouse News Service posts, "Ineffective Counsel Case Gets High Court Reboot," by Barbara Leonard.
The majority opinion gives an Arizona inmate clearance to belatedly challenge his defense attorneys as he appeals his conviction for sexual conduct with a child.
Luis Mariano Martinez is serving two consecutive terms of 35 to life in Arizona for two counts of sexual conduct with a person under the age of 15. Martinez's 11-year-old stepdaughter claimed she was abused, but later recanted. The state also admitted the girl's nightgown into evidence, pointing out that it had traces of Martinez's DNA.
Arizona appointed a new attorney to represent Martinez in his direct appeal, but the lawyer never claimed that Martinez's trial counsel was ineffective. In Arizona, inmates must bring such claims separately at state collateral proceedings. Martinez said the court-appointed appellate counsel failed to consult with him or inform him about what he needed to do to raise claims he believed his counsel had overlooked.
Armed with yet another attorney for his second notice of postconviction relief in the Arizona trial court, Martinez claimed that his trial lawyer had been ineffective for not challenging the prosecution's evidence.
The state rejected this petition, however, noting that Arizona law bars relief on a claim that could have been raised in a previous collateral proceeding.
Related posts are in the ineffective assistance of counsel index