There was a rare habeas win in the Supreme Court this past Wednesday. It happened in Maples v. Thomas. In an opinion by Ginsburg that was joined by six other judges, the Court concluded that petitioner, who had basically been abandoned by his attorneys at a critical stage of the state court proceedings, had established cause for a procedural default, namely the failure to file a timely notice of appeal from a state court denial of a collateral motion.
This was obviously the right result. And I have said that for a long time. In fact, I created my "Uncommon Sense Meter"* as a result of Maples.
*Rating cases on the scale of how much it defies common sense that a procedural rule led to an obviously unfair result.
But I couldn't have said it any better than Ginsburg did in her opinion:
In these circumstances, no just system would lay the default at Maples’ death-cell door.
Scalia and Thomas dissented and would have been perfectly comfortable with holding the default against Maples. So following Ginsburg's logic, these two judges simply do not believe in a just system. Hey, I am not the one who said it.
Unfortunately, I am guessing that the good times won't last long. The Court only concluded in Maples that there was cause for the default. The case was remanded to the 11th Circuit to determine whether there was prejudice. And this part is dripping with unfair irony: it will now be extremely hard for Maples to prejudice because Pinholster has rendered the system unfair.
In Maples, the state court rejected Maples' IAC claim in state court without holding a hearing. In fact, according to Ginsburg, the state court simply signed a pre-made order that the State had submitted in opposition to Maples' state collateral motion.
It is pretty safe to say that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for Maples to establish prejudice with respect to his IAC claim without a detailed factual record to support the claim. And, because the State refused to allow Maples to create that record -- even if that decision was completely arbitrary -- Pinholster now establishes that the state court's decision denying a hearing has preclusive effect on federal courts. Petitioner now has no opportunity to make the necessary factual record to establish the IAC claim. It's going to make it very hard to establish prejudice.
As I have said many times before, it is completely unfair to give state courts preclusive authority on such a decision. I only wish the standard in habeas cases was "no just system could tolerate the result." It would make the Court want to reconsider what they did in Pinholster (well, except for Thomas and Scalia).