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Ineffective Assistance Claims on Habeas

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The US Supreme Court decided Martinez v. Ryan today, holding that ineffective assistance of counsel in state collateral review can be "cause" for default of a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, potentially allowing that claim to be litigated in federal court.

The opinion claims this is a narrow exception, but it could potentially undo much of the promise of speeding up federal review of state capital cases that we thought would follow from last term's decisions in Walker v. Martin and Cullen v. Pinholster.  As we know, there is no limit whatever to capital habeas attorneys' attacks on every prior attorney in the case.  We can expect to see in every federal habeas petition a claim that some attack on trial counsel was left out by the state collateral counsel, and that omission is alleged to be ineffective assistance.  That issue will have to be litigated in the federal court, rather than the dismissal at the threshold on the state court record that should be the norm.

Update:  On a second reading, it appears the decision is narrower than I originally thought.  See my follow-up post, Martinez is narrow, for now.

We should also not forget the bullet dodged in this case.  The petitioner's Question Presented was: "Whether a defendant in a state criminal case who is prohibited by state law from raising on direct appeal any claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, but who has a state-law right to raise such a claim in a first post-conviction proceeding, has a federal constitutional right to effective assistance of first postconviction counsel specifically with respect to his ineffective-assistance-of-trial counsel claim."

The answer was no under Pennsylvania v. Finley, and it remains no today.

1 Comment

This decision is awful. What's really annoying is that AEDPA was adopted with the rules in Coleman etc. as a backdrop. Now, the Court pulls the rug out from under the states and Congress. Shameful.

Had this case been decided before 1996, Section 2254(i) would have been drafted differently.

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