Yesterday, June 19, 2017, on the final day of its October 2016 term, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Davila v. Davis, a Texas death penalty case. The Justices ruled 5-4 against Davila, finding that the Constitution does not guarantee the right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings, let alone effective assistance of counsel.
According to SCOTUSblog, the opinion found “that when a state prisoner fails in a state post-conviction proceeding to challenge the effectiveness of his direct-appeal lawyer, he may not raise that claim in a federal habeas petition – even if his failure was caused by ineffective assistance of his post-conviction counsel.”
Erick Davila was sentenced to death for the murders of Annette Stevenson and her granddaughter, Queshawn, in Fort Worth. His trial attorney objected to improper jury instructions, but the attorney who represented Davila in his direct appeal did not raise this issue; his state habeas lawyer then failed to file a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on those grounds. On April 24, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Davila v. Davis, during which it considered the right to effective appellate counsel.
Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, along with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan,