Effective Trial Counsel after Martinez v. Ryan: Focusing on the Adequacy of State Procedures

23 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2013 Last revised: 27 Jan 2014

Date Written: January 19, 2013


Everyone knows that excessive caseloads, poor funding, and a lack of training plague indigent defense delivery systems in the states such that the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright remains largely unfulfilled. Commentators disagree about how best to breathe life into Gideon. Many reject arguments that federal habeas corpus review of state criminal cases could catalyze reform citing procedural obstacles that currently prevent state prisoners from getting into federal court. But the Supreme Court has recently taken a renewed interest in using federal habeas review to address the problem of ineffective attorneys in state criminal cases. In Martinez v. Ryan, the Court relied on equitable principles to sweep aside procedural barriers to federal habeas review and permit state prisoners to raise ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims in federal court.

Many lower courts have resisted the Supreme Court’s recent attempts to permit state prisoners to have their ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims heard on the merits. But this battle is far from over. After documenting the ways in which lower courts are restrictively interpreting recent Supreme Court decisions expanding the grounds for cause to excuse a state prisoner’s procedural default of an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim, I suggest that the defendants still have an important equitable card to play. That card is the idea of adequacy. As lower courts attempt to re-characterize state procedures to avoid recent holdings that would open the federal doors to state prisoners’ ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims, they inadvertently set themselves up for challenges to the adequacy of their state procedures. This shift is significant, I explain, because of important differences in how cause and adequacy arguments influence state behavior. Whereas cause grounds are typically personal to the defendant, adequacy challenges are often used to expose systemic failures in a state’s procedures. As a result, adequacy challenges have more potential to catalyze change in states’ procedures.

Keywords: adequacy challenges, ineffective counsel, state procedure

JEL Classification: K14, K40

Suggested Citation

Primus, Eve Brensike, Effective Trial Counsel after Martinez v. Ryan: Focusing on the Adequacy of State Procedures (January 19, 2013). Yale L. J. 122, No. 8 (2013): 2604-25, U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 311, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2203391

Eve Brensike Primus (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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