The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in two cases. In Martinez v. Ryan [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will decide whether a defendant has a right to effective assistance of counsel in the first post-conviction appeal at which the defendant could raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in the trial. Martinez was convicted on two sexual assault counts related to the alleged rape of his stepdaughter and is serving consecutive sentences of 35 to life. During the pendency of his direct appeal, his counsel brought a collateral attack against his conviction by filing a petition for post-conviction relief. The petition did not raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel during the trial despite mistakes by Martinez's counsel including a failure to object to expert witness testimony that was inadmissible under state law. Under Arizona law, the post-conviction relief petition was the first place Martinez could raise such a claim. Martinez brought a second action for post-conviction relief, but the Arizona state courts found the claim to be procedurally barred because of a failure to raise it in the first petition. Martinez is seeking federal review of whether he can bring a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel against his appeal counsel for failure to raise the same claim against his trial counsel. Martinez argues that since the right to effective assistance of counsel extends to the first tier of review, he should be able to challenge his post-conviction relief petition because that was the first opportunity for him to raise an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] held [opinion, PDF] that since there is no right to appointment of counsel during a defendant's post-conviction relief petition there is no right to effective assistance of counsel.
The court also granted certiorari in Kurns v. Railroad Friction Prods. Corp. [docket], which deals with the preemption of state court products liability claims relating to the death of an individual exposed to asbestos. George Corson worked for various railroad companies where much of his duties included removing insulation from locomotive boilers and putting brake shoes on locomotives. His estate brought claims against multiple defendants including a claim against Railroad Friction Products Corporation (RFCP) [corporate website] over brake pads they manufactured containing asbestos. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] affirmed the district court's finding on summary judgment that claims were preempted [opinion, text] by the Locomotive Inspection Act [49 USC § 20701].