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Justices of US Supreme Court to consider limit of ineffective assistance ruling

In a case that could help establish the limits of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last term in Martinez v. Ryan, which established defendants’ narrow right to the effective assistance of counsel in a post-conviction proceeding, the Court has agreed to decide whether a state court procedural default prevents a federal habeas court from hearing a post-conviction ineffective assistance claim.

Carlos Trevino was sentenced to death for capital murder in Texas. He filed state habeas corpus applications on a number of grounds, including a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The petitions were denied, and he sought federal court habeas relief.

Trevino then filed a motion to stay the federal proceedings and sought to return to state court to exhaust a new claim based on evidence discovered by his federal habeas counsel. Both the state and federal habeas petitions were ultimately denied.

Trevino appealed the denial of his federal habeas claims to the 5th Circuit, which affirmed the ruling.

On the ineffective assistance issue, the court agreed with the district court “that Trevino’s claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed on abuse-of-writ grounds … was dismissed on independent and adequate state grounds and is, thus, procedurally defaulted.”

Trevino sought Supreme Court review, arguing that the ruling in Martinez should have prevented the district court from denying his ineffective assistance claim on procedural grounds.

The Court will hear arguments and decide the case later this term.

Trevino v. Thaler, No. 11-10189. Certiorari granted: Oct. 29, 2012.


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