6th Circuit finds that Martinez v. Ryan applies to cases from Tennessee
Posted on: 3/19/2014 05:37:08 PM by Peoples
In Sutton v. Carpenter (6th Cir. March 19, 2014), although post-conviction counsel raised some claims of ineffectiveness of trial counsel (IAC), new IAC claims were presented in the federal petition that were found to be procedurally defaulted.  The Sixth Circuit (White, with Moore and Donald) ruled that for Tennessee cases, IAC by post-conviction counsel vis-a-vis a claim of IAC by trial counsel can provide cause to excuse the procedural default of the trial IAC claim.  In reaching this conclusion, the appeals court noted first the Supreme Court’s ruling in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012), that IAC by post-conviction counsel can provide cause to excuse a procedurally defaulted trial IAC claim in jurisdictions where post-conviction proceedings provide the first opportunity for the defendant to challenge trial counsel’s performance.  The appeals court then looked to Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911 (2013), where the Supreme Court found Martinez also applicable in jurisdictions that permit defendants to raise IAC claims on direct appeal but have a procedural framework that make it highly unlikely in a typical case that a defendant would have a meaningful opportunity to do so.  Looking to Tennessee law, the panel concluded that Tennessee, like Texas, does not provide defendants with a meaningful opportunity to raise trial IAC claims on direct appeal.  Indeed, Tennessee case law advises defendants not to try to raise trial IAC claims on direct appeal because it is virtually impossible to establish prejudice without an evidentiary hearing.  Although a motion for new trial could result in an evidentiary hearing, there are timing obstacles similar to those existing in Texas, and pointed to by the Supreme Court in Trevino, that make raising an IAC claim through that vehicle difficult.  In addition, a Tennessee defendant is most often still represented by trial counsel at the new trial stage and courts recognize that trial counsel can hardly be expected to raise his or her own ineffectiveness.  In addition, Tennessee, like Texas, has case law holding that the failure by a defendant to raise trial IAC on direct appeal does not result in a waiver of the claim in post-conviction proceedings.  Indeed, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals routinely warns defendants that raising trial IAC on direct appeal is “fraught with peril” and the better practice is to not do so.  The appeals court conceded that the rules governing new trial motions in Tennessee provide defendants with a greater opportunity for amendment compared to Texas and do not have the short time-limit for ruling on the motion that exists in Texas.   But although Tennessee defendants may theoretically have greater opportunity to identify and substantiate ineffectiveness claims than their counterparts in Texas, that does not mean that there are not still significant obstacles to raising IAC claims such as: (1) the likelihood that trial counsel will represent the defendant at the time of the new trial motion and so will not raise IAC; and (2) the lack of access to a trial transcript during the period for filing a new trial motion.  The appeals court acknowledged that some of the case law concerning the potential perils of raising IAC claims on direct appeal involved situations where the defendant failed to present the claim first in a motion for new trial.  Nevertheless, the appeals court found: “the message overwhelmingly communicated is that the claims are best resolved, with least risk to the defendant, in post-conviction proceedings.”  The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.