Thursday, March 22, 2012

SCOTUS expands habeas access on ineffective assistance claims

The US Supreme Court issued an important habeas corpus decision (pdf) this week that may have implications in prominent Texas cases, and though Grits hasn't had time to read through it and digest the implications, I thought I'd at least round up the relevant links, if only so I can go through them myself soon. First, here's how Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune described the case:
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.
The ruling may have direct implications for a case mentioned recently on Grits:
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.

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.
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.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I don't know where to find an email for you but I'd like to pass on this event:
The Drug Policy Alliance invites you to a conversation:

Turning Point in Texas:

Rethinking Drug Policy
Tuesday March 27, 2012, 3:00-5:00 pm

AT&T Conference Center, 1900 University Avenue

Since the declaration of a war on drugs 40 years ago, millions of

Americans have been incarcerated for low-level drug law

violations and more than $1 trillion taxpayer dollars have been

spent – yet drug overdose, addiction and misuse are more

prevalent than ever.

Public opinion about marijuana law and the war on drugs has

shifted dramatically in the last decade, especially in the last few


Please join us for this thought-provoking conversation.


Susie Byrd, El Paso City Council Representative

Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice,
Texas Public Policy Foundation

Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director,
Drug Policy Alliance

Joy Strickland, Founder and CEO, Mothers Against
Teen Violence

Hosted by the

Drug Policy Alliance

sunray's wench said...

Can someone tell me in really simple terms whether this ruling covers inmates who agreed to a plea bargain? It would seem to me that inmates who are instructed to accept a plea, rather than the court appointed lawyer actually doing some work on the case, were given erroneous representation.

Anonymous said...

What it means is that ineffective assistance of counsel claims arising from state convictions may now be litigated in federal court even if they were not first raised on state habeas. This is now possible in situations where the state requires IAC claims to be raised only on habeas, and the state habeas application was prepared either by a pro-se applicant or by a lawyer who was ineffective for not raising the ineffective assistance of counsel claim in the state writ. It should apply whether the person pleaded guilty or not.

Anonymous said...

Sunray - an inmate should not be "instructed" to take a plea- it should be a voluntary choice. The cases in question concern the issues raised when the defendant is given bad legal advice about his/her chances at trial, or not given accurate information about the existence/terms of the plea offer. The lawyer should indeed do some work on the case, whether or not a plea is ultimately the best option. But it's amazing how many don't ...

Anonymous said...

The post is about Martinez v. Ryan, not the two other habeas cases from this week dealing with the effective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining (Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper).