Ayestas v. Davis

Justia Summary

Ayestas was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a Texas state court. He secured new counsel; his conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. A third legal team sought, unsuccessfully, state habeas relief, claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel but not counsel’s failure to investigate petitioner’s mental health and substance abuse. His fourth legal team raised that failure in a federal habeas petition. The court found the claim procedurally defaulted because it had never been raised in state court. The case was remanded for reconsideration in light of Martinez, in which the Supreme Court held that a prisoner seeking federal habeas relief could overcome the procedural default of a trial-level ineffective-assistance claim by showing that the claim is substantial and that state habeas counsel was ineffective in failing to raise it, and Trevino's extension of that holding to Texas prisoners. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion for funding to develop his claim (18 U.S.C. 3599(f)). A unanimous Supreme Court vacated, first holding that the denial was a judicial decision, requiring the application of a legal standard and subject to appellate review, rather than an administrative decision. The Fifth Circuit did not apply the correct legal standard in requiring that applicants show a “substantial need” for the services. Section 3599 authorizes funding for the “reasonably necessary” services of experts, investigators, and the like; it requires the court to determine, in its discretion, whether a reasonable attorney would regard the services as sufficiently important. The court also required “a viable constitutional claim that is not procedurally barred,” which is too restrictive after Trevino. An argument that funding is never “reasonably necessary” where a habeas petitioner seeks to present a procedurally defaulted ineffective-assistance claim that depends on facts outside the state-court record may be considered on remand.