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Misrepresenting Martinez v. Ryan and the Right to Counsel

Sean O'Sullivan has this story in the News-Journal in Delaware, headlined "US Supreme Court ruling on attorneys could cost Delaware millions":

Because of an obscure, difficult to understand ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2012, poor defendants in Delaware now have a new right to a taxpayer-funded attorney to appeal their convictions, a change that seems poised to cause legal gridlock in state courts and cost Delaware taxpayers millions.
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Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, described the ruling as an unfunded mandate from Washington.

"I'm not one to second-guess the U.S. Supreme Court, but I do have a philosophical disagreement with the decision in this case," she said, in that the court in the Martinez case ends up "telling the state how to allocate the state's resources."

The decision is Martinez v. Ryan, and the "appeal" is postconviction review.  I do not dispute that Martinez is difficult to understand in some aspects.  Compare Justice Breyer's majority opinion with Chief Justice Roberts's dissent in Trevino v. Thaler.  On this aspect, though, there is no difficulty.  Prior cases held explicitly that there is no constitutional right to counsel on collateral review, and Martinez did not alter that rule.  Instead, it decided a much narrower question about which claims will be considered by federal courts in federal habeas corpus.  There is no mandate on the states.

Even so, the Delaware Supreme Court went ahead and amended Superior Court Criminal Rule 61(e)(1) to provide state-paid counsel in every case for the initial collateral review, and Martinez is getting the blame.

Whether the state wants to fund these appointments in every case is a judgment call for the legislature to make.  Ironically, Arizona, where the Martinez case is from, does provide counsel in every case.  Let no good deed go unpunished.  If the Delaware legislature decides it is a bad policy, it should go ahead and abrogate the rule change.  Nothing in Martinez prevents it from doing so.

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