By The Constitution Project’s Mary Schmid Mergler and Christopher Durocher. Schmid, senior counsel, and Dorucher, government affairs counsel, are the authors of an ACS Issue Brief released today, “The ‘Right-to-Counsel Term.’"
Today, the Supreme Court is hearing argument in two cases related to the right to counsel, the first two in a collection of cases this fall that has earned the October 2011 Term the nickname “Right-to-Counsel Term.” Three other cases are slated for argument later this fall. We examine these cases in greater depth in our new ACS Issue Brief.
Martinez v. Ryan and Maples v. Allen kick-off the Right-to-Counsel Term by raising the question of what, if any, right to effective counsel a defendant can expect in post-conviction proceedings. In Martinez, the Court will consider whether the right to counsel should extend to ineffective assistance of counsel claims in a first state habeas petition if the defendant was prohibited from raising such claims during his direct appeal (when the state is required to provide him with counsel). In Maples, the Court is being asked to decide whether a habeas petitioner is entitled to an equitable exception to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA) procedural default rules when a defendant has been completely abandoned by counsel. In both cases, the defendants have legitimate claims that they were prevented from raising on post-conviction appeal due to counsel’s errors. And in both cases, fundamental fairness requires that these individuals, who will otherwise lose their right to challenge their convictions due solely to the errors or carelessness of their counsel, be permitted to raise those claims.