Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Martinez v. Ryan does not apply to excuse procedural default caused by attorney error at the state collateral appeal stage.

In Norris v. Brooks,No. 13-4448, the Court addressed a Rule 60(b) motion filed by a 2254 habeas petitioner who claimed that the case of Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012), called for the reopening of his federal habeas petition, previously denied in 2007.

Procedural background in Norris:
            In his state PCRA proceedings, Norris raised a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel (“IAC trial counsel”) for failing to move to dismiss on rule based and constitutional speedy trial grounds.  PCRA counsel raised the IAC trial counsel claim (poorly, citing the wrong dates) in the initial PCRA petition and then abandoned the claim, over Norris’s strenuous objections, on PCRA appeal.  Norris sought review of his IAC trial counsel/speedy trial claim in a 2254 federal habeas petition.  The federal habeas court denied his petition finding that the claim was procedurally defaulted because it was not raised at the PCRA appeal level. 

A recap of Martinez:
In Martinez v. Ryan, SCOTUS held that, under certain circumstances, attorney error at the initial collateral review stage could constitute cause for the procedural default of an IAC trial counsel claim in a federal 2254 proceeding.  For example, in Pennsylvania, the first time a defendant can claim IAC trial counsel is in a PCRA petition.  If the defendant fails to raise an IAC trial counsel claim in the PCRA petition, then the claim is normally considered procedurally defaulted and federal habeas court cannot review the claim.  Under Martinez, if the reason that the trial counsel-IAC claim was not presented in the initial PCRA petition was due to ineffective assistance of PCRA counsel, then it is possible that the PCRA counsel’s error constitutes cause and excuse for the procedural default and the federal habeas court may be able to review the trial counsel-IAC claim even though it was never presented in state court.  In this way, Martinez overruled Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991).

Raising Martinez via Rule 60(b)(6) motions:
            Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 60(b)(6) allows for relief from civil judgments in “extraordinary circumstances.”  The question of whether SCOTUS’s decision in Martinez could constitute extraordinary circumstances allowing for the reopening of a federal habeas petition which had previously been denied due to procedural default under Coleman was addressed by the Third Circuit in Cox v. Horn, 757 F.3d 113 (3d Cir. 2014).  In Cox, the Court held that while Martinez, by itself, did not constitute extraordinary circumstances allowing for the re-opening of a federal habeas petition under Rule 60(b)(6), Martinez, in conjunction with other equitable factors, could potentially merit Rule 60(b)(6) relief.

No relief for Norris:
            The problem for Norris was that the procedural default of the IAC trial counsel-speedy trial claim occurred at the PCRA appeal level (according to the original federal habeas court) and not at the initial PCRA proceeding.  Because Martinez explicitly applied only to claims that were procedurally defaulted at the initial PCRA stage and not at the appellate stage, Norris’s appeal was denied. 

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