June 16, 2017

ABA urges U.S. Supreme Court to require funds for post-conviction investigation in capital cases

CHICAGO, June 16, 2017 — The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Friday, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals setting a “substantial need” rule for funding for investigation of claims in post-conviction capital cases.

In a Texas death penalty case, the Fifth Circuit set a rule that effectively requires counsel for a capital defendant to establish a viable claim before the circuit will authorize funding for an investigation in the post-conviction phase. The ABA brief, citing ABA policies and ABA death penalty guidelines, argues that indigent capital defendants are entitled to qualified legal counsel in order to “conduct an independent and adequate investigation of the facts.” To do this, the brief continued, would require adequate funding.

“The Fifth Circuit’s restrictive and circular ‘substantial need’ test effectively prevents counsel representing indigent petitioners from fulfilling their professional responsibilities in this critical stage of proceedings, thereby increasing the risk of an unjust execution,” the brief said.

The ABA takes no position on the death penalty itself, but, as the brief points out, has policy urging courts to provide resources for indigent capital prisoners to have effective representation in pressing due process claims.

The ABA amicus brief in Carlos Manuel Ayestas v Lorie Davis, director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (Institutional Division) can be found here.

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