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Davila v. Davis

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 2017

ERICK DANIEL DAVILA, PETITIONER
v.
LORIE DAVIS, DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTIONS DIVISION

          Argued April 24, 2017

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

         In petitioner's state capital murder trial, the trial court overruled counsel's objection to a proposed jury instruction and submitted the instruction to the jury, which convicted petitioner. Appellate counsel did not challenge the jury instruction, and petitioner's conviction and sentence were affirmed. Petitioner's state habeas counsel did not raise the instructional issue or challenge appellate counsel's failure to raise it on appeal, and the state habeas court denied relief. Petitioner then sought federal habeas relief. Invoking Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, and Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413, petitioner argued that his state habeas counsel's ineffective assistance in failing to raise an ineffective-assistance-of-appellate-counsel claim provided cause to excuse the procedural default of that claim. The District Court denied relief, concluding that Martinez and Trevino apply exclusively to ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims. The Fifth Circuit denied a certificate of appealability.

         Held:

The ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel does not provide cause to excuse the procedural default of ineffective-assistance-of-appellate-counsel claims. Pp. 4-16.
(a) In Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, this Court held that attorney error committed in the course of state postconviction proceedings-for which the Constitution does not guarantee the right to counsel-cannot supply cause to excuse a procedural default that occurs in those proceedings. Id., at 755. In Martinez, the Court announced an "equitable . . . qualification" of Coleman's rule that applies where state law requires a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel to be raised in an "initial-review collateral proceeding, " rather than on direct appeal. 566 U.S., at 16, 17. In those situations, "a procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if the default results from the ineffective assistance of the prisoner's counsel in the collateral proceeding. Id., at 17. The Court clarified in Trevino that Martinez's exception also applies where the State's "procedural framework, by reason of its design and operation, makes it unlikely in a typical case that a defendant will have a meaningful opportunity to raise" the claim on direct appeal. 569 U.S., at. Pp. 4-7.
(b) This Court declines to extend the Martinez exception to allow a federal court to hear a substantial, but procedurally defaulted, claim of appellate ineffectiveness when a prisoner's state postconviction counsel provides ineffective assistance by failing to raise it. Pp. 7-16.
(1) Martinez itself does not support extending this exception to new categories of procedurally defaulted claims. The Martinez Court did not purport to displace Coleman as the general rule governing procedural default. Rather, it "qualifie[d] Coleman by recognizing a narrow exception, " 566 U.S., at 9, and made clear that "[t]he rule of Coleman governs in all but th[ose] limited circumstances, " id., at 16. Applying Martinez's highly circumscribed, equitable exception to new categories of procedurally defaulted claims would do precisely what this Court disclaimed in that case. P. 7.
(2) Martinez's underlying rationale does not support extending its exception to appellate-ineffectiveness claims. Petitioner argues that his situation is analogous to Martinez, where the Court expressed concern that trial-ineffectiveness claims might completely evade review. The Court in Martinez made clear, however, that it exercised its equitable discretion in view of the unique importance of protecting a defendant's trial rights, particularly the right to effective assistance of trial counsel. Declining to expand Martinez to the appellate-ineffectiveness context does no more than respect that judgment. Nor is petitioner's rule required to ensure that meritorious claims of trial error receive review by at least one state or federal court-Martinez's chief concern. See 566 U.S., at 10, 12. A claim of trial error, preserved by trial counsel but not raised by counsel on appeal, will have been addressed by the trial court. If an unpreserved trial error was so obvious that appellate counsel was constitutionally required to raise it on appeal, then trial counsel likely provided ineffective assistance by failing to raise it at trial. In that circumstance, the prisoner likely could invoke Martinez or Coleman to obtain review of trial counsel's failure to object. Similarly, if the underlying, defaulted claim of trial error was ineffective assistance of trial counsel premised on something other than the failure to object, then Martinez and Coleman again already provide a vehicle for obtaining review of that error in most circumstances. Pp. 7-11.
(3) The equitable concerns addressed in Martinez do not apply to appellate-ineffectiveness claims. In Martinez and Trevino, the States deliberately chose to make postconviction process the only means for raising trial-ineffectiveness claims. The Court determined that it would be inequitable to refuse to hear a defaulted claim when the State had channeled that claim to a forum where the prisoner might lack the assistance of counsel in raising it. The States have not made a similar choice with respect to appellate-ineffectiveness claims-nor could they, since such claims generally cannot be presented until after the termination of direct appeal. The fact that appellate-ineffectiveness claims are considered in proceedings in which counsel is not constitutionally guaranteed is a function of the nature of the claim, not of the States' deliberate choices. Pp. 11-12.
(4) The Martinez decision was also grounded in part on the belief that its narrow exception was unlikely to impose significant systemic costs. See 566 U.S., at 15-16. But adopting petitioner's proposed extension could flood the federal courts with defaulted appellate-ineffectiveness claims, and potentially serve as a gateway to federal review of a host of defaulted claims of trial error. It would also aggravate the harm to federalism that federal habeas review of state convictions necessarily causes. Not only would these burdens on the federal courts and federal system be severe, but the systemic benefit would be small, as claims heard in federal court solely by virtue of petitioner's proposed rule would likely be largely meritless. Pp. 12- 16.

650 Fed.Appx. 860, affirmed.

          THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, Alito, and Gorsuch, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          THOMAS, JUSTICE

         Federal habeas courts reviewing convictions from state courts will not consider claims that a state court refused to hear based on an adequate and independent state procedural ground. A state prisoner may be able to overcome this bar, however, if he can establish "cause" to excuse the procedural default and demonstrate that he suffered actual prejudice from the alleged error. An attorney error does not qualify as "cause" to excuse a procedural default unless the error amounted to constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. Because a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to counsel in state postconviction proceedings, ineffective assistance in those proceedings does not qualify as cause to excuse a procedural default. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991).

         In Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413 (2013), this Court announced a narrow exception to Coleman's general rule. That exception treats ineffective assistance by a prisoner's state postconviction counsel as cause to overcome the default of a single claim-ineffective assistance of trial counsel-in a single context-where the State effectively requires a defendant to bring that claim in state postconviction proceedings rather than on direct appeal. The question in this case is whether we should extend that exception to allow federal courts to consider a different kind of defaulted claim-ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. We decline to do so.

         I

         A

         On April 6, 2008, a group of family and friends gathered at Annette Stevenson's home to celebrate her granddaughter's birthday. Petitioner Erick Daniel Davila, believing he had seen a member of a rival street gang at the celebration, fired a rifle at the group while they were eating cake and ice cream. He shot and killed Annette and her 5-year-old granddaughter Queshawn, and he wounded three other children and one woman.

         After the police arrested petitioner, he confessed to the killings. He stated that he "wasn't aiming at the kids or the woman, " but that he was trying to kill Annette's son (and Queshawn's father) Jerry Stevenson and the other "guys on the porch." App. 38. The other "guys on the porch" were, apparently, women.

         The State indicted petitioner for capital murder under Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 19.03(a)(7)(A) (West 2016), which makes it a capital crime to "murde[r] more than one person . . . during the same criminal transaction." In response to the jury's request for clarification during deliberations, the trial court proposed instructing the jury on transferred intent. Under that doctrine, the jury could find petitioner guilty of murder if it determined that he intended to kill one person but instead killed a different person. Petitioner's counsel objected to the additional instruction, arguing that the trial judge should "wait" to submit it "until the jury indicates that they can't reach . . . a resolution." App. 51. The trial court overruled the objection and submitted the instruction to the jury. The jury convicted petitioner of capital murder, and the trial court sentenced petitioner to death.

         B

         Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence. Although his appellate counsel argued that the State presented insufficient evidence to show that he acted with the requisite intent, counsel did not challenge the instruction about transferred intent. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction and sentence. Davila v. State, 2011 WL 303265 (Jan. 26, 2011), cert, denied, 565 U.S. 885(2011).

         Petitioner next sought habeas relief in Texas state court. His counsel did not challenge the instruction about transferred intent, nor did he challenge the failure of his appellate counsel to raise the alleged instructional error on direct appeal. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief. Ex parte Davila, 2013 WL 1655549 (Apr. 17, 2013), cert, denied, 571 U.S. ___ (2013).

         C

         Petitioner then sought habeas relief in Federal District Court under 28 U.S.C. §2254. As relevant here, he argued that his appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to challenge the jury instruction about transferred intent. Petitioner conceded that he had failed to raise his claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel in his state habeas petition, but argued that the failure was the result of his state habeas counsel's ineffective assistance. Petitioner invoked this Court's decisions in Martinez and Trevino to argue that his state habeas attorney's ineffective assistance provided cause to excuse the procedural default of his claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.

         The District Court denied petitioner's §2254 petition. It concluded that Martinez and Trevino did not supply cause to excuse the procedural default of petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel because those decisions applied exclusively to claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. See Davila v. Stephens, 2015 WL 1808689, *20 (ND Tex., Apr. 21, 2015). The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied a certificate of appealability on the same ground. 650 Fed.Appx. 860, 867-868 (2016). Petitioner then sought a writ of certiorari, asking us to reverse the Fifth Circuit on the ...


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