Supreme Court: ineffective postconviction counsel does not excuse default of claim
Supreme Court: ineffective postconviction counsel does not excuse default of claim

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday held [opinion, PDF] in Davila v. Davis [SCOTUSblog materials] that the procedural default of ineffective-assistance-of-appellate-counsel claims are not excused by the ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel. Petitioner Erik Davila confessed to accidentally killing a woman and her five-year-old granddaughter, as well as wounding several others, while he was attempting to shoot the woman’s son during a birthday party in 2008. The state of Texas indicted Davila for capital murder because he had killed more than one person during the same transaction. The jury was instructed on transferred intent and informed that it could find Davila “guilty of murder if it determined that he intended to kill one person but instead killed a different person.” Davila was convicted. During appeal his appellate counsel argued that the state failed show the requisite intent of a guilty verdict but neglected to challenge the instruction of transferred intent. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals [official website] affirmed Davila’s conviction and sentence. When Davila appealed to state court he again did not challenge the instruction nor did he challenge his counsel’s failure to raise the issue on direct appeal. Petitioner requested that the court expand Martinez v. Ryan [SCOTUSblog materials], a case that held [opinion, PDF] that the ineffective assistance of a prisoner’s lawyer in state post-conviction proceedings would excuse the prisoner’s failure to press the underlying ineffective assistance claim at trail, to include ineffective assistance that failed to raise the issue on appeal as well. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the court, stating:

We think it is likely that the claims heard in federal court because of petitioner’s proposed rule would also be largely meritless, given that the proposed rule would generally affect only those cases in which the trial court already adjudicated, and rejected, the prisoner’s argument regarding the alleged underlying trial error. Given that petitioner’s proposed rule would likely generate high systemic costs and low systemic benefits, and that the unique concerns of Martinez are not implicated in cases like his, we do not think equity requires an expansion of Martinez.

Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented stating, “The basic legal principle that should determine the outcome of this case is the principle that requires courts to treat like cases alike.”

The Supreme Court granted certorari for Davila v. Davis in January and heard oral arguments [JURIST reports] in April.