U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

Roundup: Two Controversial Decisions Expand Habeas Availability

We were starting to worry that the ideological differences that make for such great theater amongst the Nine were beginning to dissipate. After all, the latest handful of decisions by the Supreme Court have come down without much dissent or controversy. Were Scalia and Ginsburg becoming BFFs not just outside the Court, but in?

This week, our faith in dissent, dispute and left-versus-right schisms was validated by two decisions dealing with inmates challenging their convictions. In one, much to Justice Scalia’s chagrin, the court “created” an exception to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA) statute of limitations.

In the other, the court expanded last year’s Martinez decision, which allowed issues of ineffective assistance of counsel to be raised in collateral post-conviction proceedings in extremely limited circumstances.

Perkins: SOL if Innocent?

As you may be aware, the AEDPA requires claims to be brought within one year of state proceedings becoming finalized. Now, if you have compelling proof of actual innocence, there is a sparkly new exception. The exception applies to cases where no reasonable juror aware of the evidence would have voted to convict.

That doesn't mean delay plays no part in the matter. A defendant's lack of diligence should be weighed against him when considering the reliability of the evidence.

The majority's decision probably won't help Floyd Perkins. He left a party with two men. One was beaten to death. The two survivors blamed each other. The jury sided with the other guy.

While in prison, Perkins obtained three affidavits from individuals claiming to have evidence that the other guy did it. The last statement was obtained in 2002. He brought his claims in 2008. The trial court weighed the evidence anyway, finding it to be unpersuasive.

Unpersuasive evidence and a lack of diligence doesn't portend good things for Mr. Perkins.

Unsurprisingly, Scalia and the other conservatives dissented in a 5-4 split. Scalia pointed out that the AEDPA has no such exception, and it is not within the court's power to usurp Congressional duties and rewrite the statute. Ginsburg, the author of the majority opinion, called Scalia's arguments "bluster."

Trevino: Scope of Post-Conviction Collateral Challenges Expanded

Last year, in Martinez v. Ryan, the court held that when a state requires ineffective assistance of counsel claims to be brought outside of the direct-appeal process, with no right to counsel, the defendant can later make those ineffective assistance claims in federal court if the defendant either had no lawyer or an ineffective lawyer.

Texas doesn't explicitly require such claims to be brought outside of the direct-appeal process, but the procedural requirements certainly "encourage" it. As Justice Breyer stated in the majority opinion, "What the Arizona law prohibited by explicit terms, Texas precludes as a matter of course." In other words, it's a distinction without a difference.

Except, the four-vote dissent noted that there is a difference. The Martinez exception was quite narrow. Now, anyone denied a "meaningful opportunity" to address a claim on direct appeal can do so in collateral post-conviction proceedings.

What's a meaningful opportunity? Which procedures deny such opportunities? That's the rub.

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