John Balentine, who was scheduled to be murdered by the State of Texas on Wednesday night, received a last minute reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court about an hour before his scheduled execution.
The Court granted the stay so that it could review Mr. Balentine's claim that he was afforded ineffective assistance of counsel during his trial and during the early stages of the appeal process. The stay follows the Court's decision last week to review an Arizona case in which the question of whether a person convicted of a crime is entitled to effective representation during the early stages of the appeals process.
The US Constitution guarantees the right of a criminal defendant to be represented by counsel through trial. Courts have long held that the same right does not apply to defendants seeking appellate relief. We are all entitled to our day in court -- but if we don't like the result we're not entitled to appeal, unless we can afford to pay for it.
While I find it unlikely that the Supreme Court would extend the right to counsel to the appellate process, I wouldn't be completely shocked if the Court extended the right to competent counsel to persons appealing convictions of capital crimes.