Martinez-Ramirez and the Direction of 6th Amendment Rights

Most of the Supreme Court discussion today is focused on the Shinn v. Martinez-Ramirez case which narrowed the room for criminal defendants to plead ineffective assistance of counsel under the 6th Amendment. It did so by holding that when an attorney at a post-conviction hearing does not raise a claim of ineffective counsel at trial, then this issue cannot be raised on subsequent appeals. 

To provide some context I’ve put together the Supreme Court’s most recent 6th Amendment ineffective assistance of counsel decisions.

Garza v. Idaho (2019): The Court held that Garza’s trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance of counsel under the 6th Amendment by failing to file a notice of appeal despite Garza’s repeated requests. This expands defendants’ rights.

McCoy v. Louisiana (2018): The Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel involves the right of a criminal defendant to choose the objective of his defense and insist that counsel not admit guilt, even if the counsel’s experience-based view is that admitting guilt offers the best chance of avoiding the death penalty. This expands defendants’ rights.

Buck v. Davis (2017): The Court held that Buck received inadequate assistance of counsel because his attorney introduced evidence and argued that Buck was liable to be a future danger because of his race, and that it was reasonably probable that without this testimony he may not have been sentenced to death. This expands defendants’ rights.

Lee v. United States (2017): The Court held that when a defendant claims that his plea was caused by ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant can demonstrate that he was prejudiced by showing a reasonable probability that, but for his counsel’s errors, he would have gone to trial rather than accepting a plea. This expands defendants’ rights.

Luis v. United States (2016): The Court held the 6th Amendment right prohibits the government from undermining the defendant’s ability to be represented by the counsel of his choice that he can afford. This expands defendants’ rights.

These decisions show an expansion of defendants’ rights in this area prior to Martinez-Ramirez decision. It will be interesting to look at whether the Court further limits 6th Amendment rights moving forward or goes back to the trajectory it was previously on. Since the split in this case was along ideological lines, this could mean the Court is more likely to take the former path rather than revert to the latter.

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