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SCOTUS: Ineffective postconviction counsel doesn’t excuse default of ineffective appellate counsel claim

Erick Daniel Davila v. Lorie Davis, USSC No. 16-6219, 2017 WL 2722418 (June 26, 2017), affirming Davila v. Davis, No. 15-70013 (5th Cir., May 31, 2016) (unpublished); Scotusblog page (including links to briefs and commentary)

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court holds that ineffective assistance of counsel in state postconviction proceedings does not provide cause to excuse, in a subsequent federal habeas proceeding, a procedurally defaulted claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.

Federal habeas courts reviewing convictions from state courts will not consider claims that a state court refused to hear based on an adequate and independent state procedural ground. A state prisoner may be able to overcome this bar, however, if he can establish “cause” to excuse the procedural default and demonstrate that he suffered actual prejudice from the alleged error. An attorney error does not qualify as “cause” to excuse a procedural default unless the error amounted to constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. Because a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to counsel in state postconviction proceedings, ineffective assistance in those proceedings does not qualify as cause to excuse a procedural default. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722 (1991).

In Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U. S. 1 (2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U. S. 413 (2013), this Court announced a narrow exception to Coleman’s general rule. That exception treats ineffective assistance by a prisoner’s state postconviction counsel as cause to overcome the default of a single claim—ineffective assistance of trial counsel—in a single context—where the State effectively requires a defendant to bring that claim in state postconviction proceedings rather than on direct appeal. The question in this case is whether we should extend that exception to allow federal courts to consider a different kind of defaulted claim—ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. We decline to do so.

(Slip op. at 1-2).

Breyer dissents, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. (Dissent at 1-10).

The Court validates the approach taken by the circuits that have addressed the issue, including the Seventh, Long v. Butler, 809 F.3d 299, 315 (7th Cir. 2015). The dissent essentially adopts the logic we noted in our post on the cert grant as to why Coleman‘s exception should apply to cases like Davila’s.

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