ineffective assistance of counsel

Trevino v. Thaler

Carlos Trevino was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by a Texas jury in 1997. During sentencing, Trevino’s state-appointed trial counsel failed to introduce potentially mitigating evidence of Trevino’s history of extreme childhood abuse and neglect, which might have persuaded the jury to sentence him to life in prison instead of death. His state-appointed habeas corpus counsel also failed to uncover evidence of Trevino’s background, and therefore failed to realize that he might have a colorable ineffective assistance of counsel claim. This failure to assert the claim barred raising the claim on federal habeas corpus review. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in Martinez v. Ryan, No. 10-1001, slip op. at 15 (March 20, 2012), had recognized a narrow exception to the procedural default rule, whereby ineffective assistance of counsel in an initial-review collateral proceeding—here, the state habeas proceeding—may excuse such a default. In Martinez, Arizona made state habeas proceedings the exclusive forum for addressing ineffective assistance of counsel claims.Trevino argues that the Martinez exception should apply here because this case implicates the same equitable considerations in post-conviction systems similar to Arizona’s.  In response, Rick Thaler, Director of the Correctional Institutions Division at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, contends that Texas’s post-conviction system already provides fair opportunity for such claims to be heard, both in state habeas proceedings and on direct appeal, and thus the Martinez fairness concerns do not apply.  This decision may affect the legitimacy of the state post-conviction process and the balance of victims’ rights and the rights of capital inmates in the post-conviction setting.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether the U.S. Supreme Court should grant certiorari, vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and remand the case to that court for consideration of Trevino’s argument under Martinez v. Ryan?

Edited by: 
Acknowledgments: 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

Additional Resources: 

Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal: Supreme Court to Hear New Case on Competence in Habeas Representation (Oct. 30, 2012).

Wex, Habeas Corpus.

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