Martinez v. Ryan


Does a criminal defendant have the right to effective assistance of counsel during a collateral post-conviction proceeding when that proceeding presents the defendant’s first opportunity to raise an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim?

Oral argument: 
October 4, 2011


Petitioner Luis Mariano Martinez, a convicted felon serving consecutive terms of 35 years to life, filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking relief in federal court. Martinez alleges that his trial counsel provided him with ineffective assistance. Because his appellate counsel failed to raise that ineffective-assistance claim in the first state post-conviction proceeding, an Arizona court precluded the claim on procedural grounds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Martinez did not have the right to counsel during his post-conviction proceeding, and concluded that he may not claim ineffective assistance at that stage in order to overcome his procedural default. Consequently, Martinez is barred from raising his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim, regardless of whether his post-conviction counsel rendered him ineffective assistance and caused the procedural default that precluded his trial-level claim. Martinez argues that he has a constitutional right to effective assistance of post-conviction counsel in raising his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim; he concludes that ineffective post-conviction counsel should negate the procedural default with respect to his ineffective-trial-counsel claim in this federal habeas proceeding. Respondent Charles L. Ryan, Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, asserts that defendants do not have a right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings, concluding from this that the ineffective assistance of Martinez’s post-conviction counsel cannot negate his procedural default. In this decision, the Supreme Court will have to weigh the possibility that poorly-represented defendants will lose ineffective-assistance claims due to procedural defaults against the benefits of efficient state criminal proceedings.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether a defendant in a state criminal case who is prohibited by state law from raising on direct appeal any claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, but who has a state-law right to raise such a claim in a first post-conviction proceeding, has a federal constitutional right to effective assistance of first post-conviction counsel specifically with respect to his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim.


Petitioner Luis Mariano Martinez was convicted in an Arizona state trial court for sexual conduct with a person under fifteen years old and was sentenced to serve consecutive prison terms of 35 years to life.  Martinez, assisted by an appellate public defender, directly appealed his conviction, but the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed and the Arizona Supreme Court denied review.  Martinez did not debate the effectiveness of his trial counsel on direct appeal because Arizona state law requires defendants to raise ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims on collateral review, during the first post-conviction proceeding. 

While his direct appeal was pending, Martinez’s appellate public defender initiated a post-conviction relief proceeding pursuant to the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure Martinez claims that he did not authorize this action, nor did he receive notice that his counsel initiated the proceeding.  Martinez’s counsel then filed a statement indicating that she found no tenable issue to sustain post-conviction relief, and requested that the court grant Martinez 45 days to file a pro se post-conviction relief petition.  When Martinez failed to file the pro se relief petition, the trial court dismissed the first post-conviction proceeding.  Martinez claims that he did not authorize nor did he receive notice of his counsel’s statement, and that his counsel did not advise him that failing to file a pro se petition in the first post-conviction proceeding would be a procedural default, resulting in the waiver of his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim. 

Following the dismissal of his first post-conviction proceeding, Martinez, represented by new appellate counsel, initiated a second post-conviction relief proceeding in the Arizona Superior Court There Martinez alleged that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth AmendmentsThe Superior Court dismissed the action as precluded because Martinez failed to raise that claim in the first post-conviction proceeding.  The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the Superior Court’s decision, and the Arizona Supreme Court denied review of Martinez’s claim. 

Still seeking relief, Martinez filed a habeas petition in federal court. The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona held that Martinez’s procedural default in the first post-conviction proceeding precluded relief in federal court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also refused to grant relief, holding that Martinez did not have a right to effective post-conviction assistance because the Constitution does not require the appointment of counsel for collateral proceedings. 

Martinez appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted certiorari to consider whether Martinez has a constitutional right to effective counsel in a first post-conviction proceeding when that proceeding presents the first opportunity to raise an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim. 


Under Arizona’s criminal appeal procedure, a defendant cannot make the claim that his trial counsel was ineffective on a direct appeal (the first stage of review following a trial).  The defendant can, however, raise such a claim in a state collateral proceeding, such as a post-conviction relief proceeding. In this case, Petitioner Luis Mariano Martinez contends (1) that he has a constitutional right to the effective assistance of post-conviction counsel when presenting his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim, and (2) that, because he did not receive effective assistance in the pursuit of that claim at the first post-conviction proceeding, his claim is not subject to procedural default.  However, Respondent Charles L. Ryan, Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, argues that a defendant does not have the right to effective counsel in post-conviction proceedings, and that, even if he did have this right, the ineffectiveness of his post-conviction counsel would be insufficient to obtain federal habeas review

In its opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit discussed cases where the right to post-conviction counsel was recognized, but the court distinguished Martinez’s situation as being too far removed from first-tier review to implicate the right to effective counsel. Because Martinez received assistance of counsel for a general review of his conviction during direct appeal, the Ninth Circuit did not consider his post-conviction proceeding as the first opportunity for review.  

Constitutional Right to Effective Assistance in Post-Conviction Proceedings

Martinez contends that, because he could not raise an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim on direct appeal, the first post-conviction proceeding was effectively the first tier of review for that claim.  . Martinez argues that the Ninth Circuit erred in drawing analogies between his case and a prior case in which the defendant in a proceeding concerning previously litigated claims challenged the effectiveness of counsel.  Unlike the case cited by the Ninth Circuit, Martinez did not attempt to raise an already-litigated claim, but instead argued that he did not receive proper assistance during the collateral proceeding, which was his first opportunity to raise the ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim.  Since the assistance Martinez received during the direct appeal was not related to his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim (Martinez could not raise that claim on direct appeal), he asserts that he still has a Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to effective assistance during the first post-conviction proceeding, as that is the first possible tier of review for his trial-counsel claim. 

Ryan disagrees with Martinez, emphasizing first that a defendant does not have a constitutional right to the assistance of counsel in a discretionary direct appeal, which would occur even before the case moves to the post-conviction proceedings that are at issue in Martinez’s case.  Ryan then contends that post-conviction relief proceedings are even further removed from the trial than a discretionary direct review; therefore, he concludes, states should not be required to provide the same Due Process protections that are traditionally afforded during a direct review.  Furthermore, Ryan argues that requiring the effective assistance of post-conviction counsel in collateral proceedings would result in a requirement that counsel be appointed for each “new” issue in the proceeding. These new issues, Ryan asserts, could involve a variety of claims, such as the discovery of new evidence that “probably” would have changed the trial verdict, or a legal amendment that might affect a defendant whose conviction has already been finalized on the direct appeal of his trial. 

Ineffective Counsel as Cause to Preclude Default

Martinez argues that his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim is not subject to procedural default, as held by the Ninth Circuit, because Arizona’s procedural rule infringes on a defendant’s federal rights and is therefore insufficient to bar federal review.  Prohibiting federal habeas review of Martinez’s ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim, because his first post-conviction counsel failed to raise the claim, would, according to Martinez, violate his constitutional rights, including: his right to the effective assistance of counsel at the trial level, and his right to the effective assistance of post-conviction counsel in raising an ineffective-assistance of-trial-counsel claim (where that post-conviction collateral proceeding presents the first opportunity to raise such a claim). . Martinez argues that the right to effective assistance of counsel at the post-conviction stage must be ensured, otherwise defendants may lose the opportunity to seek federal habeas review on claims that were poorly presented during this first post-conviction review.  Furthermore, even if the Court determines that Martinez’s default would preclude him from federal review, Martinez contends that his unconstitutionally defective representation during the first post-conviction proceeding should excuse the procedural default.  .

In opposition, Ryan asserts that Martinez did not establish the cause required to overcome his procedural default.  Traditionally, Ryan states, the U.S. justice system has recognized a stark difference between direct review, such as an appeal, and collateral review, such as Martinez’s post-conviction proceeding. Ryan contends that recognizing a right to counsel on collateral review would extend this right beyond the direct proceedings that provide the first review of a defendant’s conviction and result in a requirement of counsel for all proceedings in which the court first reviews any of the defendant’s claims. Furthermore, Ryan argues, even if Martinez did have a right to the assistance of counsel in his post-conviction proceeding, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) provides that the ineffectiveness of such counsel is insufficient cause to overcome a procedural default and obtain federal habeas relief. Ryan asserts that the plain language of the AEDPA, as supported by the rulings of several lower courts, bars relief sought on ineffective-counsel claims raised during post-conviction proceedings.  


A defendant can enforce his Constitutional right to effective legal counsel by asserting an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. Many states, including Arizona, require ineffective-assistance claims to be first litigated in a collateral proceeding because these claims often require evidence that is outside of the trial record and inadmissible during a direct appeal Petitioner Luis Mariano Martinez contends that a ruling for Respondent Ryan in this case will mean that criminal defendants lose legitimate ineffective-assistance claims based on complicated procedural rules and a curtailed system of federal habeas review Respondent Ryan argues that a ruling for Martinez will not help innocent defendants, but instead will impose a financial burden on the justice system, and will threaten judicial goals of efficiency and finality.  

Impact on Litigants and the Justice System

Arguing for Petitioner Martinez, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) contends that deserving defendants may lose meritorious ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims if there is no right to effective assistance during post-conviction proceedings.  The ABA claims that counsel is required to present a meaningful ineffective-assistance claim, as most defendants lack the ability to identify and litigate such a claim on their own behalf. Indeed, the ABA contends that litigating ineffective-assistance claims on collateral review (as is required by many states) is more procedurally difficult and requires more outside-of-the-record investigation than direct review, for which the constitution already guarantees the right to effective counsel.  The ABA argues that these added difficulties make the effective assistance of counsel imperative in the first post-conviction proceeding; a failure to follow technical procedural rules at this stage may preclude a defendant’s viable Sixth Amendment claim.  Similarly, the Innocence Network emphasizes the necessity of effective counsel in post-conviction proceedings, in order to address wrongful convictions that ineffective assistance of defendant's trial counsel may enable. This is a particular concern, contends the Innocence Network, in view of the fact that public defenders often lack time and money to properly present an effective defense at trial. 

Respondent Ryan contends that the rule proposed by Martinez will adversely affect the criminal justice system without providing any benefit.  . Ryan claims that a right to effective assistance during the first post-conviction proceeding will not measurably reduce the wrongful-conviction rate because criminal defendants can claim actual innocence at any time, including during collateral review.  Ryan further argues that requiring the effective assistance of counsel in a collateral proceeding will negatively affect states’ criminal justice systems. According to Ryan, creating this additional constitutional right for criminal defendants will undermine states' interests in the finality of criminal proceedings: a second collateral proceeding would then be necessary so that a defendant could raise an ineffective-assistance claim based on his counsel’s performance in the first post-conviction proceeding. Similarly, a group of twenty-fourstates argue that the right to collateral-review counsel will substantially increase each state’s appellate caseload, as it has in Wisconsin, a state that adopted the rule proposed by Martinez. . These states contend that a right to collateral-review counsel will be financially draining and may diminish the adequacy of representation at trial and direct appeal, as all state-appointed counsel is funded by one source. .

Impact on Federal Habeas Review

A group of former State Supreme Court Justices (“former Justices”), writing in support of Martinez, argue that Congress and the courts have significantly curtailed federal habeas review, making it imperative that defendants have effective representation during state post-conviction proceedings in order to defend their constitutional rights. Before Congress amended the federal habeas statute (in tthe Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”)), a federal habeas court reviewed a state court’s legal rulings and application of law to facts de novoUnder the new amendments, federal courts may only grant relief if the state court’s decision conflicted with or unreasonably applied a prior Supreme Court decision.  For these reasons, the former Justices argue that state courts must provide adequate means—including the appointment of counsel—to ensure the full development of federal claims in state post-conviction proceedings; otherwise, a valid claim may be barred from federal relief. 

In contrast, Ryan argues that a right to effective assistance in post-conviction proceedings would undermine the legislative intent behind the AEDPA. By enacting the AEDPA, Congress sought to reduce delays in the execution of criminal sentences caused by defendants’ pursuit of federal habeas proceedings. The AEDPA reduces delays partly by barring a defendant from reaching federal court when his failure to follow the state’s procedural rules has precluded his claim in state court.  If a defendant can show sufficient cause, then it is possible to overcome a procedural default in state court and reach a federal habeas court.  Ryan contends that recognizing the ineffective-assistance of counsel in post-conviction proceedings as sufficient cause to overcome a procedural default would further delay the execution of state and federal sentences.  This would be especially true, Ryan asserts, in capital cases, in which defendants commonly assert ineffective-assistance claims; such a result would undermine the legislative intent in enacting AEDPA. 



In Martinez v. Ryan, the Supreme Court will decide whether a defendant has a right to the effective assistance of post-conviction counsel in bringing an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim, when this is first raised in a collateral proceeding. Petitioner Martinez argues that he has a constitutional right to such counsel under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, since otherwise he would not receive assistance for his ineffective-trial-counsel claim. He further contends that his federal habeas petition is not defaulted; he argues that a default determination would frustrate the exercise of his right to effective assistance of trial counsel, as well as his right to effective assistance of first post-conviction counsel. In opposition, Respondent Ryan argues that defendants do not have a constitutional right to counsel when litigating in post-conviction relief proceedings. Ryan further argues that, even if defendants have a right to counsel in such collateral proceedings, they cannot use the alleged ineffectiveness of counsel as a basis for overcoming a state-court procedural default in order to reach review in a federal habeas proceeding. The Court’s decision in this case will affect criminal defendants who are poorly represented and prone to procedural pitfalls, as well as the finality and efficiency of a state’s criminal proceedings.

Edited by