I apologize for the lack of activity around here over the past two months. Too busy to blog, basically. But I have been keeping track of things. I do intend to catch up on habeas stuff from the past few months. Probably going to be awhile for all of that to happen.
But I could not resist blogging about today's huge habeas win in Martinez v. Ryan. I listed Martinez as the most anticipated habeas case of the term. And it did not disappoint. Here's the holding, courtesy of Justice Kennedy:
Inadequate assistance of counsel at initial-review collateral proceedings may establish cause for a prisoner's procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance at trial.
What does that mean? Well, according to Kennedy, it does not mean that a criminal defendant now has a constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel at an initial-review collateral proceeding.* But a habeas petitioner can now argue that an attorney's ineffectiveness at such a proceeding can represent the excuse for a federal court to review the merits of an IAC claim related to trial counsel that was not raised in state court. Get it?
*Kennedy defines initial review collateral proceeding as a collateral proceeding (in NY we are talking about 440's) which provide the first occasion to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Most States relegate IAC claims to collateral proceedings. New York does this too, for the most part.
I know it's a morass inside of a labyrinth of complicated habeas issues. I find it difficult to break it down any more simply without going back to square one of habeas law and mapping it all out. I'll just say, it's a big deal.
Why is it a big deal? One may ask. Does it change anything? Two may ask. Will it change anything? Three may ask. I think that Three asks the most pertinent question. And, in my mind, the answer to Three's question is definitely yes. I think, as Scalia lamented in his cutting dissent, it will lead to States assigning attorneys in most, if not all, initial-review collateral proceedings.
What's interesting is that, while Kennedy tries to keep the holding narrow, the rationale behind the holding is really broad. In fact, Kennedy does a great job of explaining why an attorney is necessary in these types of proceedings. Here's what he says:
Where, as here, the initial-review collateral proceeding is the first designated proceeding for a prisoner to raise a claim of ineffective assistance at trial, the collateral proceeding is in many ways the equivalent of a prisoner’s direct appeal as to the ineffective-assistance claim. This is because the state habeas court “looks to the merits of the clai[m]” of ineffective assistance, no other court has addressed the claim, and “defendants pursuing first-tierreview . . . are generally ill equipped to represent themselves” because they do not have a brief from counsel or an opinion of the court addressing their claim of error. . . .
Without the help of an adequate attorney, a prisoner will have similar difficulties vindicating a substantial ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim. Claims of ineffective assistance at trial often requireinvestigative work and an understanding of trial strategy. When the issue cannot be raised on direct review, moreover, a prisoner asserting an ineffective-assistance-of-trialcounsel claim in an initial-review collateral proceeding cannot rely on a court opinion or the prior work of an attorney addressing that claim. . . . To present a claim of ineffective assistance at trial inaccordance with the State’s procedures, then, a prisoner likely needs an effective attorney.
The same would be true if the State did not appoint an attorney to assist the prisoner in the initial-review collateral proceeding. The prisoner, unlearned in the law, may not comply with the State’s procedural rules or may misapprehend the substantive details of federal constitutional law. . . . While confined to prison, the prisoner is in no position to develop the evidentiary basis for a claim of ineffective assistance, which often turns on evidence outside the trial record.
So, there are really logical and highly equitable reasons for providing an attorney to help a defendant litigate that type of claim. Of course, those reasons were around before Martinez and, sadly, are not what's going to motivate the States to assign counsel.
Rather, the States are going to start assigning attorneys because it will provide them cover when they go to federal court. It will essentially nip the cause argument in the bud. The State will assign an attorney and when they get to federal court they will stand behind the attorney's actions, which will be given a great deal of deference under the IAC standard. It is the most prudent action for the State to pursue, as opposed to taking the risk of having to litigate the merits of all of the underlying IAC-trial related claims in federal court.
I am guessing that a lot more needs to be (and will be) said about Martinez over the next couple of months. I am going to process it some more and see if there is an easier way to break it down. But for today, I'll just be happy about the habeas win.