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April 05, 2022

ABA asks U.S. Supreme Court to allow full investigations before deciding habeas petitions

CHICAGO, April 5, 2022 — The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to affirm an appeals court’s decision that permitted counsel for a death row inmate to obtain expert testing of their client as part of their investigation of the case.

The state of Ohio, which sought Supreme Court review of the appellate court decision, has argued that before being allowed to investigate, counsel should first be required to prove that any evidence they might obtain would be admissible under the complex procedural rules that govern habeas corpus proceedings.

The concept of habeas corpus dates back centuries and entitles a prisoner to ask federal courts for relief from a state-court conviction or sentence that violated the prisoner’s constitutional rights, including a conviction or sentence involving ineffective assistance of trial counsel. In the pending case, the Supreme Court will consider whether, before a lower court allows a habeas petitioner to develop new evidence, it must first determine that the evidence could aid the petitioner in proving his entitlement to habeas relief, and whether the evidence may permissibly be considered by a habeas court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed a district court’s order directing transportation of the habeas petitioner to a neurological testing facility to allow the petitioner to develop evidence that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the petitioner’s neurological impairments. The ABA brief asks the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the lower court decisions and reject any rule that would “limit counsel’s ability to conduct a proper investigation in federal habeas cases and provide proper representation to federal habeas clients.”

“Courts sitting in federal habeas jurisdiction exercise review over the habeas claims that are presented to them,” the ABA brief said. “An independent and adequate investigation by counsel — and the resources necessary to that investigation — naturally must precede the court’s determination as to whether the habeas petitioner’s claims have substantive and procedural merit.”

Citing comments to the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment & Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, the ABA’s brief asserts that “inadequate investigation by defense attorneys … (has) contributed to wrongful convictions in both capital and non-capital cases.” The ABA does not take a stand on capital punishment other than to say it should be meted out fairly and with constitutional safeguards.

The ABA brief in the case Shoop v. Twyford, is here. The law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP filed the brief pro bono on behalf of the ABA.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.