What's at Stake
Whether, in federal habeas review of a Texas death sentence, procedural default of an ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim may be excused when the cause of the default is initial-collateral review counsel’s own ineffectiveness.
This case raises a complex yet important question affecting the ability of state death-row prisoners to obtain federal-court review of constitutional error. Capital defendants are constitutionally entitled to the effective assistance of counsel at trial, but also in their direct appeals of the conviction and death sentence in state courts. Filed with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Texas affiliate, the ACLU amici brief argues that a prisoner should be able to get federal habeas review of the unconstitutional deprivation of his right to effective counsel on direct appeal, even when the prisoner has failed to raise this issue at the first possible opportunity, if the reason for that failure is the prisoner’s incompetent legal representation in ongoing appeals.