Supreme Court rules on application of AEDPA, effective assistance of counsel

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] in Harrington v. Richter [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the section of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) [28 USC § 2254 text] limiting federal review of state court decisions to decisions resulting from an unreasonable application of the law or an unreasonable determination of the facts is applicable to state court orders issued without an accompanying explanation. In an 8-0 decision, the court held that, where a state court's decision is not accompanied by an opinion stating the court's reasoning, the petitioner seeking habeas corpus relief still bears the burden of proving there was not reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. In its decision, the court also reaffirmed the standard established in Strickland v. Washington for determining the effectiveness of assistance of counsel at trial. The court held that, in order for a person to be successful on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, they must prove that their representation "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness" and that the failure of counsel resulted in prejudice. During oral arguments, the respondent argued [JURIST report] that defense counsel's reliance on cross-examination in lieu of forensic evidence violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, rejected the petitioners argument stating that there are "countless ways to provide effective assistance in any given case" and that counsel is given wide latitude to make "tactical decisions" and still remain within the "wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored a concurring opinion in which she stated that she did not believe the defense counsel provided the assistance guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, but that counsel's lapse was not "so serious as to deprive Richter of a fair trial." The court overturned the ruling [opinion, PDF] in the case by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings. Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the ruling.

Kennedy also authored Wednesday's opinion [text, PDF] in Premo v. Moore [Cornell LII backgrounder], which reversed a Ninth Circuit grant of habeas relief [opinion, PDF] for ineffective assistance of counsel. Respondent Randy Moore filed the petition for relief on the basis that defense counsel failed to move to suppress a confession that may have been obtained illegally prior to advising him to accept a plea agreement. In an 8-0 decision, the court again applied the Strickland standard, holding that the defense counsel's representation was objectively reasonable. The court stated that it was reasonable for the state court to accept the defense counsel's explanation that a motion to suppress would have been pointless in light of additional admissible statements of guilt by Moore. The court also rejected the Ninth Circuit's application of Arizona v. Fulminante [opinion text] to the instant case, stating that Fulminante cannot be read as applying to the Strickland standard of effectiveness of counsel. Ginsburg wrote a concurring opinion in the case. Kagan took no part in the decision.

 

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