Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. _____ (2013)

Carlos Trevino was convicted of capital murder in Texas state court and sentenced to death. Neither new counsel appointed for direct appeal nor new counsel appointed for state collateral review raised the claim that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance during the penalty phase by failing to adequately investigate and present mitigating circumstances. When that claim was finally raised in Trevino's federal habeas petition, the district court stayed proceedings so Trevino could raise it in state court. The state court found the claim procedurally defaulted. The federal court concluded that this failure was an independent and adequate state ground barring federal courts from considering the claim. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded.


The Supreme Court held, in Martinez v. Ryan, that "a procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if, in the [State's] initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective." Martinez concerned a prisoner from Arizona, where state law required the prisoner to raise the claim during his first state collateral review proceeding. Texas law does not require a defendant to raise his ineffective-assistance claim on collateral review and the Fifth Circuit subsequently held that Martinez was inapplicable to Texas cases. Where, as here, state procedures make it highly unlikely in a typical case that a defendant will have a meaningful opportunity to raise an ineffective-¬assistance-of-trial-counsel claim on direct appeal, the Martinez exception applies. Texas procedures make it nearly impossible for an ineffective-assistance claim to be presented on direct review; a writ of habeas corpus is normally needed to gather the facts necessary for evaluating such claims. Were Martinez not to apply, the Texas procedural system would create significant unfairness. The Court noted Texas courts' own "well-supported determination that collateral review normally is the preferred procedural route for raising an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim." Failure to consider a lawyer's "ineffectiveness" during an initial-review collateral proceeding as a potential "cause" for excusing a procedural default will deprive the defendant of any opportunity for review of an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim.


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