Thursday, June 16, 2011

Update: High Court grants stay of Texas execution

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.


Jeff Gamso said...

I hate to quibble, but it's probably worth getting the detail right on this.

SCOTUS held back in 1985 in Evitts v. Lucey that if a state gives you a right to appeal (and they all do in some fashion), there is a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel at the FIRST APPEAL to which you there is that right. The standards are ridiculously low, but the right is clear.

The problem is that there are all sorts of issues that can't be raised in that appeal, and there's no other post-trial context where there's a right to effective assistance. Balentine goes after that potential right. Here's the question put to the Court:

"Whether a defendant in a state capital proceeding who cannot raise on direct appeal any
claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel—because such claims require evidence outside the
appellate record—but who has a state-law right to raise such a claim in a first habeas corpus
proceeding, has a federal constitutional right to effective assistance of state habeas counsel
specifically with respect to his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim?"

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thank you for the comment - and the clarification, Jeff. If you consider that quibbling, then feel free to quibble all you want.