February 13, 2017

ABA urges high court to review decision denying lawyers standing in an indigent capital case

CHICAGO, Feb. 13, 2017 — The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Monday, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a procedural compromise for appeals related to indigent legal representation in capital penalty cases.

The ABA brief supports the San Francisco-based Habeas Corpus Resource Center, which assists indigent men and women under sentence of death in California, and the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona. At issue is a compromise worked out in Congress under Chapter 154 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1995 in which states are accorded stronger finality rules in federal habeas reviews in return for implementing mechanisms that ensure the right of counsel for indigent capital defendants.

The plaintiffs in the case are challenging the implementation of the compromise, contending that the Final Rule in question does not adequately protect the rights of indigent capital defendants to competent counsel. A U.S. District Court judge agreed, but the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lawyer groups did not have standing to sue as plaintiffs. The ABA brief argues that lawyer groups do have standing to challenge the implementation because their work is directly impacted. 

The ABA amicus brief argues that “there is a difference between a state adopting standards and ensuring that appointed counsel meet those standards.” The brief also cited a decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals regarding whether “to confer organizational standing on groups of lawyers” that is in “stark contrast” to the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

The ABA amicus brief in Habeas Corpus Resource Center, Office of the Federal Public Defender vs. U.S. Department of Justice, Loretta E. Lynch, Attorney General, is available here.

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