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Name: Davila v. Davis
Case #: 16-6219
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 06/26/2017
Subsequent History: 137 S.Ct. 2058

In federal habeas proceedings, Martinez v. Ryan (2012) 566 U.S. 1 exception excusing procedural default of trial-IAC claims does not extend to claims of appellate-IAC. After the trial court overruled a defense objection to a jury instruction, Davila was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In his federal habeas petition, Davila argued his state appellate attorney was ineffective for failing to raise the instructional issue on direct appeal. Although Davila had not raised this claim in his state habeas petition, he argued this failure should be excused because it resulted from his state habeas attorney’s ineffective assistance (IAC). After the federal courts denied relief, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Affirmed. Because there is no constitutional right to counsel in postconviction proceedings, errors by postconviction counsel generally do not constitute “cause” to overcome procedural default. Martinez established a single equitable exception to this rule that applies where state law requires prisoners to raise claims of trial-IAC in postconviction proceedings, rather than on direct appeal. In those situations, procedural default will not bar review by a federal court if the default results from IAC of postconviction counsel. However, nothing in Martinez suggests this exception should extend to defaulted claims of appellate-IAC. Martinez was concerned with trial errors, and appellate-IAC is not a trial error. Furthermore, it is not necessary to extend Martinez in order to prevent claims of error from escaping review by at least one court: if trial counsel objected to the error, then the trial court reviewed the issue; if trial counsel failed to object, then the claim can likely be brought as a trial-IAC claim under the current formulation of Martinez. Also, the equitable concerns underlying Martinez do not exist here because the state did not deliberately choose to channel appellate-IAC claims into a context where there is no right to counsel. Finally, extending Martinez to claims of appellate-IAC would impose significant costs on federal courts, yet the additional claims would largely be meritless. [Editor’s Note: Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, arguing that the Martinez/Trevino exception should apply to a prisoner who raises a constitutional claim of appellate-IAC.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: