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Supreme Court rules on ineffective assistance of counsel claim

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 Tuesday in Trevino v. Thaler [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST report] that last term's decision in Martinez v. Ryan [JURIST report] on ineffective assistance of counsel claims should apply in this case. In Martinez an Arizona procedural rule required a defendant convicted at trial to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel during his first state collateral review proceeding or lose the claim. Luis Mariano Martinez did not comply with the state procedural rule, but he argued that the federal habeas court should permit his claim because he lacked effective counsel both during trial and during his first state collateral review proceeding. The court ruled 7-2 that lack of counsel on collateral review might excuse defendant's state law procedural default. In this case Texas law appears to permit but not require that a defendant raise the ineffective assistance of counsel claim on direct appeal, but the Texas system makes it "virtually impossible" to do so. Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer held that Martinez applies, vacating the judgment [text] of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and remanding for further proceedings.

Chief Justice John Roberts filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Samuel Alito. Roberts argued that Martinez should be limited and should not extend to these circumstance. Justice Antonin Scalia also filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Scalia dissented for the same reasons set forth in his dissent from Martinez.

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