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Supreme Court, 6-3, Limits Appeals Over Deficient Criminal Lawyers

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state prisoners have no constitutional right to present new evidence in federal court to support their claims that they were represented by unqualified or otherwise deficient lawyers. The vote in two Arizona cases was 6-to-3, along ideological lines, reports NPR. bIn 2012 the court ruled that when a state court "substantially" interferes with a defendant's constitutional right to be represented by counsel, the defendant may appeal to federal court. Back then, the majority was 7-to-2, with Justice Clarence Thomas in dissent. On Monday, Thomas wrote the majority decision hollowing out that 2012 ruling on behalf of the court's new six-justice conservative super majority.

He said federal courts may not hear "new evidence" obtained after conviction to show how deficient the trial or appellate lawyer in state court was. To allow such evidence to be presented in federal court, he said, "encourages prisoners to sandbag state courts," depriving the states of "the finality that is essential to both the retributive and deterrent function of criminal law." Writing for the dissenters, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the decision "perverse," and "illogical." The Sixth Amendment "guarantees criminal defendants the right to effective assistance of counsel at trial," she said. "Today, however, the court hamstrings the federal courts' authority to safeguard that right." University of Michigan law Prof. Leah Litman said, "Basically you can have a federal court hear the claim, you just can't present any evidence to support that claim because Congress... greatly restricted the availability of evidentiary hearings." "The opinion leaves innocent people in the nightmarish position of having no court to go to for justice," said Christina Swarns of the Innocence Project.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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