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Ninth Circuit: Habeas Petitioner Need Only Show That IAC Claims Are Substantial to Excuse Procedural Default Under Martinez

by Chad Marks

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an order remanding a habeas case so that the district court could conduct an analysis of the substantiality of petitioner’s ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”) claims.

Kyle J. Rodney petitioned a district court in Nevada for habeas corpus relief. That petition was denied without allowing discovery, holding an evidentiary hearing, or engaging in a Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, inquiry. The district court found that two of Rodney’s IAC claims were procedurally defaulted and denied relief on the one claim the court found was properly exhausted.

The Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) in Martinez established an equitable exception for those who have IAC claims that are procedurally defaulted. SCOTUS in that case ruled that the absence or ineffective assistance of counsel at an initial review collateral proceeding can establish cause to excuse a petitioner’s procedural default of substantial claims.

Rodney argued to the Fourth Circuit that he could show cause and prejudice as required by Martinez. In order to excuse a procedural default, Martinez requires a petitioner to show (1) that his ineffective assistance-of-trial-counsel claim is substantial, (2) that he had no counsel during his state collateral review proceeding or that his counsel during that proceeding was ineffective under the standards of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688 (1984), (3) that the state collateral review proceeding was the “initial” review proceeding with respect to the ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim, and (4) that state law requires ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims to be raised in initial review collateral proceedings.

Nevada law requires prisoners to raise IAC claims for the first time in initial-review collateral proceedings. Rodney moved the court pro se without counsel during his initial-review collateral proceedings. Thus, he was not required to show prejudice but instead only had to show that his IAC claims were substantial.

The failure to conduct a Martinez analysis prevented the district court from making a finding on whether or not the claims of IAC were substantial.

Analyzing the record as to trial counsel’s failures, the Court found that on the present record it could not conclude that Rodney’s IAC claims were meritless with regards to Strickland’s first prong of deficient performance. 

As a result of the district court’s failure to allow discovery or hold an evidentiary hearing, the evidence in the district court record was far too limited for the Court to conclusively evaluate the substantiality of Rodney’s claims.

Accordingly, the Court remanded the case with instructions to the district court. See: Rodney v. Filson, 916 F.3d 1254 (9th Cir. 2019). 

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