Justices to See If Late Habeas Claim Is Justified
WASHINGTON (CN) - A death row inmate will get a new shot at habeas relief after the Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up his case in light of precedent that infuriated Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year.
Carlos Trevino was convicted in 1997 of murdering 15-year-old Linda Salinas.
Investigators found Salinas' body in Espada Park, in San Antonio, Texas, on June 10, 1996, a day after she had gotten into a car with Trevino, his cousin Juan Gonzales and three other friends.
Instead of driving the girl to a fast-food restaurant as they had promised, they took her to the park and three of them sexually assaulted her.
Gonzales testified that Trevino had pressured him to rape Salinas but that he refused and eventually went back to the car. He also testified that he saw Trevino hold Salinas down while one man raped her, that he heard Trevino and the three rapists discussed their desire not to leave any witnesses, and that there was blood on the shirts of Trevino and one of the rapists when they returned to the car.
Salinas had been stabbed in the neck with a knife, and Gonzales said that Trevino had made a comment after the murder that he "learned to use a knife in prison."
Though Gonzales said one of the assailants complimented Trevino on snapping the girl's neck, there was no evidence of such an attack.
After the trial court sentenced Trevino to death, the inmate unsuccessfully applied for habeas relief at the state level, then filed a petition in federal court, but stayed that proceeding to exhaust another option in state court. When that maneuver failed, Trevino stayed his federal habeas proceeding a second time to exhaust another claim in state court.
Since Texas failed for over two years to appoint Trevino a lawyer in connection to the new claim, the federal court lifted the stay and resumed proceedings.
A federal judge denied Trevino's eight claims for federal habeas corpus relief, but it granted the inmate a certificate of appealability (COA) on three of the issues.
Trevino had argued that the court should stay further proceedings until the Supreme Court resolved a pending question about whether ineffective assistance of state habeas counsel in failing to raise a meritorious claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel established cause for a default in state habeas proceedings.
The 5th Circuit refused to stay Mr. Trevino's appeal for this purpose and would not grant COAs on the five claims that the lower court rejected in November 2011.
Four months later, the Supreme Court decided in Martinez v. Ryan that ineffective assistance of state habeas counsel, mirroring that which Trevino has described, could establish cause for the default of a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
Scalia penned a furious dissent at the time, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, that rebuked the majority for "a monstrosity" and "a radical alteration of our habeas jurisprudence that will impose considerable economic costs on the states and further impair their ability to provide justice in a timely fashion."
In granting Trevino's petition for a writ of habeas corpus Monday, the Supreme Court said it would consider only remanding the case for the circuit to consider Trevino's argument under Martinez v. Ryan.
Trevino can proceed in forma pauperis, according to the order.