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.The ruling may have direct implications for a case mentioned recently on Grits:
“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.
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.See the SCOTUSBlog Wiki page on Martinez v. Ryan, good guest blogging on the subject at Sentencing Law & Policy, as well as Adam Liptak's coverage in the New York Times and notable commentary at the ABA Journal, the Courthouse News Service, and the Habeas Book Blog.
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.
Will is hoping the court’s ruling in Martinez will allow him to argue that he should get a new trial because both his trial lawyer and his state-appointed habeas lawyer were ineffective when they failed to track down several witnesses who have testified that the other man confessed to the killing.