The News Journal of Wilmington, Delware reports:
Because of an obscure, difficult to understand ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2012, poor defendants in Delaware now have a new right to a taxpayer-funded attorney to appeal their convictions, a change that seems poised to cause legal gridlock in state courts and cost Delaware taxpayers millions.
Until now, criminal defendants unable to pay for a private attorney were guaranteed a publicly financed lawyer for their trial and first appeal to the state Supreme Court. On limited occasions, state judges have assigned lawyers for additional post-conviction appeals, mostly for defendants facing life in prison or the death penalty.
But the state’s courts adopted a new rule in May, following the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Martinez v. Ryan, requiring that nearly all indigent inmates in Delaware get a taxpayer-funded attorney for at least one round of post-conviction appeals to argue their trial attorney was ineffective, if they ask.
“It looks like we have a problem on our hands and we are still working on how to solve it,” said Delaware Public Defender Brendan O’Neill, who expressed concern about both paying for this new right and finding enough attorneys to handle the work.
State Prosecutor Kathleen Jennings says that the state Attorney General’s Office is near its limit and to add this new responsibility to defend cases where the defendant has already been tried and convicted and failed on the first round of appeals is too much.
“We just can’t absorb this much more work,” she said, without money to hire new prosecutors.
But so far state legislators have refused to appropriate additional funds, citing frustration over the new rule.
Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, described the ruling as an unfunded mandate from Washington.
“I’m not one to second-guess the U.S. Supreme Court, but I do have a philosophical disagreement with the decision in this case,” she said, in that the court in the Martinez case ends up “telling the state how to allocate the state’s resources.”
Sen. Harris McDowell III, D-Wilmington North, the other co-chair of the JFC, saidthe ruling means a whole new layer of taxpayer-funded support for criminal defendants and seems like a “welfare” program for attorneys. . . .
The 2012 Martinez ruling did not receive much national attention, in part because the implications of the ruling were not clear and because it did not affect all states equally. Some states already have a system in place that provides a taxpayer-funded attorney for post-conviction “ineffective assistance” claims and some states have interpreted the ruling differently than Delaware.
Delaware justices only decided that the Martinez decision meant Delaware had to expand access to taxpayer-funded attorneys after a months-long review by a specially-appointed panel of judges and attorneys.
If Delaware fails to pay for this additional representation, Widener Law professor Judith Ritter said, federal courts will start overturning state cases and sending them back. . . .
In April 2012, the Federalist Society produced a SCOTUScast on the decision in the Martinez v. Ryan case. According to the podcast's summary:
The question in this case was whether the failure of a state prisoner’s attorney to raise, in state collateral review proceedings, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at trial bars a federal court from considering the claim on subsequent federal habeas review.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Kennedy, the Court held by a vote of 7-2 that such a “procedural default” does not bar a federal habeas court from considering a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if, in the initial collateral review proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective. The Court therefore reversed the lower court’s ruling to the contrary and remanded the case for further proceedings. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Thomas.
To discuss the case, we have Ward Campbell, who is the Supervising Deputy Attorney General at the California Department of Justice.
You can listen to the SCOTUScast here.