Death Penalty

ABA brief supports lawyer groups challenging US rule on habeas counsel appointment procedures

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The ABA has filed an amicus brief arguing supporting two legal groups that claim a final rule governing the appointment of lawyers in capital habeas appeals fails to adequately protect the right to competent counsel.

The ABA brief (PDF) argues that the two groups—the Habeas Corpus Resource Center and the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona—have standing to challenge the rule. The ABA filed the brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, according to an ABA press release.

At issue is a Justice Department final rule implementing a portion of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allows states to fast track capital habeas cases if they offer competent counsel to indigent death-row inmates. The rule creates procedures to certify the state mechanisms for appointment of competent counsel.

The ABA brief asserts that the final rule “contains no meaningful substantive competency criteria.” The rule doesn’t reference objective material such as ABA guidelines on competent counsel in death-penalty cases, the brief says. And it allows the U.S. attorney general to judge state procedures in a way that “could essentially be arbitrary,” according to the brief.

The case is Habeas Corpus Resource Center for U.S. Department of Justice.

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