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Making Claims Of Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel In A Federal Habeas Corpus Proceeding: Avoiding Procedural Default


Making Claims Of Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel In A Federal Habeas Corpus Proceeding:

Avoiding Procedural Default

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Issue:

Whether a federal habeas court can hear a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel where the claim was procedurally defaulted because it was not raised by the petitioner’s attorney in a State habeas proceeding, in which there is no constitutional guarantee of effective assistance of counsel.

Holding:

Attorney error in state proceedings that does not violate the Constitution does not excuse a state claim of procedural default in a federal habeas proceeding. Where the constitution does not guarantee the assistance of counsel, as in criminal appeals, attorney error cannot provide cause to excuse a procedural default in state proceedings when raised in the context of federal habeas petitions.ussc

Facts:

Petitioner was convicted of a capital murder crime in Texas, allowing him to appeal directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Although there was an appealable issue regarding an erroneous jury instruction, petitioners appellate counsel never raised the issue. The petitioner’s conviction was affirmed and he then submitted a state habeas corpus petition. At the habeas corpus hearing, his appellate counsel failed to argue the erroneous jury instruction again and failed to argue ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The conviction was affirmed again and the petitioner filed a federal habeas corpus petition where he was barred from arguing ineffective assistance of appellate counsel and ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to comply with the exhaustion rule.

 

Analysis:

In order to litigate an issue in a federal habeas corpus petition, compliance with the exhaustion rule is necessary. This means that all issues must have been presented to and decided by a state court before the federal court will entertain them. If an issue was not heard by the state court first, it is considered procedurally defaulted. Any habeas petitioner who has failed to present his claims in state court has effectively deprived the state court of the opportunity to address the merits of those claims. If there is an objective factor, external to the defendant that made compliance with the procedural rules impossible, it is an excuse to a procedural default.

Habeas_CorpusThe Courts rationale for finding that the federal habeas court cannot review a case where there is a procedural default is because the ineffective counsel claim was at the appellate level where one does not have the Constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. The procedural default in this case was with the state habeas attorney who failed to raise the issue of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The attorney error in the state habeas proceeding does not violate the Constitution and is not an excuse because the Constitution does not guarantee effective assistance of counsel at the appellate level, only the trial level. The Supreme Court found that ineffective counsel during a collateral hearing is not a deprivation of a constitutional right because there is no guarantee to appellate counsel and therefore, there is no excuse to a procedural default. The Court goes on to say that in any proceeding for which the Constitution does not guarantee the assistance of counsel, attorney error cannot provide cause to excuse a default in state proceedings in the context of federal habeas proceedings

Petitioner argued that under the Supreme Courts holding in Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991) and Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), ineffective assistance of appellate counsel is an excuse to the exhaustion rule. The Supreme Court disagreed. The Court noted that Coleman holds that there is no Constitutional error when there is ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Court then clarified the Martinez decision, stating that Martinez provided a narrow equitable qualification of the Coleman rule and found that when state law requires prisoners to raise claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel at a collateral proceeding rather than direct appeal, ineffective assistance of counsel at the collateral proceeding can be an excuse to a procedural default.

However, here, there is no state law requiring ineffective assistance of counsel claims to be argued in a collateral proceeding. Rather, Petitioner seeks to apply the Martinez rule to any post conviction ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Petitioners argument rests on one main point?that Petitioners claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel might never be reviewed by any court without expanding the Coleman and Martinez rule to these types of cases.

The Supreme Court was unconvinced, however, holding that allowing a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel to evade review is not just as concerning as allowing a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel to evade review and noted the importance of criminal trials over appellate review based on the two instances in the Constitution guaranteeing a right to a criminal trial and none referring to appellate review.

The Supreme Court goes on to say that adopting Petitioners argument would flood the federal courts with defaulted claims of appellate ineffectiveness and again differentiated the case at hand with Martinez, which applies only to States that deliberately chose to channel claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel into collateral proceedings. Finally, the Court balanced the burden on courts with the relief that adopting Petitioners argument would give and stated that claims heard in federal court because of petitioners proposed rule would be largely meritless and would generate high systemic costs and low systemic benefits. Therefore, the Martinez rule applies only to states that require collateral proceedings for ineffective assistance of counsel claims and Petitioner is left without appellate review of his claim because his appellate counsel failed to raise it.Oblique_facade_3,_US_Supreme_Court

Dissent:

The dissent, written by Justice Breyer, pointed out the flaws in the majority’s decision by noting the great harm that could come from this decision. Stating that the majority’s decision miss[es] the point, Justice Breyer gives an example where a defendant can be left without any court to hear an appellate-ineffective-assistance claim or any underlying violations at the trial level that the ineffective appellate counsel failed to raise.

Justice Breyer also responds to the majority’s claim that the Petitioners argument could flood the courts, noting that in fact, the Martinez exception applies in most states and there is no indication that after the Martinez decision there was any significant strain on state or federal resources. Finally, the dissent ended with the point that effective trial counsel and appellate counsel are inextricably connected elements of a fair trial and our cases make clear that due process requires a criminal defendant to have effective assistance of appellate counsel as well.


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