U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to Hear New Case on Competence in Habeas Representation

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a Texas death-row inmate who claims his state habeas lawyer was ineffective for failing to raise a claim that his trial lawyer was ineffective.

The case involving convicted murderer Carlos Trevino could determine whether inmates in Texas have a right to a competent lawyer in habeas appeals, the Texas Tribune reports. SCOTUSblog says the case “is of major importance for criminal law.”

At issue is whether a Supreme Court decision this spring on behalf of an inmate with a similar double claim of ineffective assistance applies in Texas, where procedures are different.

The March Supreme Court decision, Martinez v. Ryan, held that at inmate’s claim of ineffective assistance at trial was not defaulted by failure to raise it in a state collateral appeal, at least when a state bars ineffective assistance claims in the direct appeal, SCOTUSblog says. The issue is whether the decision applies in Texas, where inmates are sometimes allowed to raise the issue of trial counsel effectiveness before the habeas stage.

Inmate Carlos Trevino was among several gang members charged in the murder of a 15-year-girl murdered in a San Antonio park, the Texas Tribune says. Trevino was the only inmate sentenced to death.

Trevino’s current lawyer, Warren Alan Wolf, tells the Texas Tribune that his client’s first habeas lawyer did no investigation outside of the record and then became sick and didn’t want to proceed. “Carlos never really got fair representation,” Wolf said.

The case is Trevino v. Thaler.

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