<< Equitable Tolling | Main | News Scan >>

Defending Coleman v. Thompson

The 1991 decision in Coleman v. Thompson is one of the most important protections for the finality of criminal judgments in U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence.  Without it, there could be an endless stream of collateral attacks on a judgment, with each lawyer claiming the supposed ineffectiveness of the lawyer before as "cause" for the earlier default of the claim.  Coleman drew the line on such "ineffectiveness as cause" claims at the first appeal.

California has not followed Coleman for state habeas corpus, and the result has been a disaster.  Even though successive petitions are very rarely granted, they are filed in nearly every case.  They regularly claim ineffectiveness of the first habeas lawyer as cause for default, and the "ineffectiveness" generally consists of nothing more than the first lawyer not bringing a claim the second lawyer wants to bring.  The California Supreme Court put some limits on these petitions last August in In re Reno, but not enough yet.  See this post.

The U.S. Supreme Court made two narrow exceptions to Coleman last term.  Maples v. Thomas made an exception for clients actually abandoned by their lawyers, fortunately a rare occurrence.  Martinez v. Ryan made an exception for states that actually bar all ineffectiveness claims from direct appeal, an odd little rule that a state should quickly jettison.

Now in Trevino v. Thaler, petitioner seeks to expand Martinez into an exception that swallows the rule.  That would be a disaster, as the California experience demonstrates.

Today CJLF filed an amicus brief opposing this change.

Leave a comment

Monthly Archives