Supreme Court limits inmate challenges on basis of poor legal aid

“The sprawling evidence hearing in Jones is particularly poignant,” he wrote as an example. “Apparently to assess cause and harm under Martinez, the district court ordered a seven-day hearing that included testimony from no less than 10 witnesses, including defense counsel, post-sentence defense counsel , the lead detective in charge of the investigation, three medical examiners, a specialist in emergency medicine and traumatology, an expert in biomechanics and human functional anatomy, and an analyst of crime scenes and traces of blood.

“This wholesale retrial of Jones’ guilt,” Judge Thomas added, “is clearly not what Martinez intended.”

Judge Sotomayor replied that the hearing was necessary because Mr Jones’ lawyers had been inadequate. “Far from constituting ‘an inappropriate and wholesale re-litigation of Jones’ guilt,'” she wrote, “the district court hearing was high-profile precisely because the collapse of the adversarial system in the Jones’ case was so egregious.”

The Supreme Court’s decision, Justice Sotomayor added, “will leave many people convicted in violation of the Sixth Amendment risking incarceration or even execution with no real chance of asserting their right to counsel.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett joined Justice Thomas’ majority opinion. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined Justice Sotomayor’s dissent.

Robert M. Loeb, who represented Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Jones on the Supreme Court, expressed disappointment with the decision.

“The court’s decision leaves the fundamental constitutional right to trial counsel without an effective enforcement mechanism in these circumstances,” he said in a statement. “The ruling misconstrues federal law, produces untenable results never before contemplated by Congress, and amounts to a fundamental violation of the fairness of the criminal justice system.”

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