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SCOTUScast is a project of the Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies. This audio broadcast series provides expert commentary on U.S. Supreme Court cases as they are argued and issued. The Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker. We hope these broadcasts, like all of our programming, will serve to stimulate discussion and further exchange regarding important current legal issues. View our entire SCOTUScast archive at http://www.federalistsociety.org/SCOTUScast.
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Ayestas v. Davis - Post-Argument SCOTUScast
On November 7, 2017, the Supreme Court heard argument in Ayestas v. Davis, a case involving the extent to which 18 U.S.C. § 3599, which allows indigent defendants to obtain “reasonably necessary” investigative services in connection with issues relating to guilt or sentencing, applies in the context of procedurally defaulted habeas claims.
Manuel Ayestas was sentenced to death for murder, and his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1998. Ayestas then sought state habeas relief, claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his attorney had failed to bring Honduras-based family members to Texas in order to testify to Ayestas’s good character and lack of criminal record in Honduras. The Texas state district court found that Ayestas’s trial counsel, though ultimately unsuccessful, had acted with reasonable diligence, and therefore denied habeas relief. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed in 2008.
In 2009 Ayestas sought federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, claiming that his trial counsel had acted ineffectively by failing to properly investigate all potentially mitigating evidence. An effective investigation, Ayestas argued, would have uncovered his lack of a criminal record in Honduras, his schizophrenia, and his addiction to drugs and alcohol. The district court determined that Ayestas had procedurally defaulted this claim by failing to raise it in state habeas proceedings, and found no cause to excuse that default. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied a certificate of appealability.
In 2012, however, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Martinez v. Ryan that the ineffectiveness of state habeas counsel in failing to claim ineffective assistance of trial counsel may provide cause to excuse a procedural default. Although the Fifth Circuit denied Ayestas’s motion for a rehearing based on the Martinez ruling, the Supreme Court vacated that judgment and remanded Ayestas’s case for further consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Trevino v. Thaler, which made clear that Martinez applied in the context of Texas state procedures. The Fifth Circuit in turn remanded Ayestas’s case to the district court to reconsider his procedurally defaulted ineffective assistance claim in the first instance.
On remand Ayestas filed a motion for investigative assistance under 18 U.S.C. § 3599(f),