April 24, 2017
OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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).
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.
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 ...