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March 21, 2018

Two more SCOTUS wins for criminal defendants in Ayestas and Marinello

The Supreme Court this morning released two opinions in argued criminal justice cases: Ayestas v. Davis, No. 16–6795(S. Ct. March 21, 2018) (available here) and Marinello v. United States, No. 16-1144 (S. Ct. March 21, 2018) (available here). Here are the line-ups of the votes by the Justices and the start of each opinion for the Court:

Ayestas v. Davis:

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined.

Petitioner Carlos Ayestas, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a Texas court, argues that he was wrongfully denied funding for investigative services needed to prove his entitlement to federal habeas relief.  Petitioner moved for funding under 18 U. S. C. §3599(f), which makes funds available if they are “reasonably necessary,” but petitioner’s motion was denied. We hold that the lower courts applied the wrong legal standard, and we therefore vacate the judgment below and remand for further proceedings.

Marinello v. United States:

BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined.

A clause in §7212(a) of the Internal Revenue Code makes it a felony “corruptly or by force” to “endeavo[r] to obstruct or imped[e] the due administration of this title.”26 U. S. C. §7212(a). The question here concerns the breadth of that statutory phrase. Does it cover virtually all governmental efforts to collect taxes? Or does it have a narrower scope? In our view, “due administration of [the Tax Code]” does not cover routine administrative procedures that are near-universally applied to all taxpayers, such as the ordinary processing of income tax returns. Rather, the clause as a whole refers to specific interference with targeted governmental tax-related proceedings, such as a particular investigation or audit.

A busy day means I am unlikely to have much time to obsess over these two relatively small wins for defendants, but I do have time to make a quick comment about the voting particulars. Specifically, I think it notable in Ayestas that a state capital defendant got a unanimous vote in his favor from the Court and that in Marinello, both the Chief and the newest Justices voted with the majority in favor of the defendant rather than with Justice Thomas's dissent.

March 21, 2018 at 11:44 AM | Permalink


The breadth of Alito's opinion in practice is questioned:


Posted by: Joe | Mar 21, 2018 10:08:58 PM

Even after this opinion, there are the following practical questions about a Martinez claim:

1) Since the "cause" claim is that collateral review counsel was ineffective, how substantial must the claim be -- for example, does the inmate have to show that counsel could have met the state procedural pleading requirements (some states require more specific allegations)?

2) If the initial petition lacks sufficient details to meet the state procedural requirements, would an amended petition adding such details relate back to the original petition (i.e. would it be enough in the original petition to say that trial counsel failed to obtain mental health records and a psychiatric analysis and then -- after further investigation, amend to say what was actually in those records and what the diagnosis of the expert is)?

3) After the expansion of cause to get around the procedural bar, does the "not discoverable through due diligence" language in 2254(e)(2) barring a hearing on matters not presented to state courts mean that Martinez claims automatically fail?

Posted by: tmm | Mar 22, 2018 3:56:27 PM

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