As American citizens, we are entitled to several rights and protections to help ensure we are all treated fairly by the law. Freedom of speech and the right to bear arms are common examples of these rights, but they are not the only ones. Just as important — and perhaps even more-so in some ways — is the right to a fair trial. That is the basis of our justice system. That is what every good attorney fights to keep for their clients.
When we discuss a “fair trial,” this means it meets the right ethical, constitutional criteria to correctly judge an individual’s actions. Not only does it refer to having unbiased jurors and judges and following “innocent until proven guilty,” it also means every individual on trial has the right to proper representation. You are entitled to, specifically, an effective attorney who accurately presents your evidence and advocates on your behalf. This does not mean you are entitled to win, but if you are only convicted because your court-appointed attorney was negligent, you have options for post-conviction relief on that basis.
However, what if your post-conviction attorney is ineffective? Prior federal law provided potential relief in these cases, but in the new, controversial ruling of Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez, the Supreme Court held that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act prohibits a federal court from considering any evidence the inept attorneys failed to uncover. Per Slate:
Martinez Ramirez held that there is nothing a federal court can do when a defendant received ineffective assistance at their trial in violation of the Sixth Amendment and was then appointed an ineffective attorney during post-conviction proceedings who did not present evidence to support the claim that the defendant received ineffective assistance at trial. Specifically, the court held that the federal statute governing post-conviction review, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, prohibits the federal court from considering evidence that the ineffective post-conviction lawyer failed to uncover… [even if] this evidence may indicate that the defendant is innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death.
There is now nothing a federal court can do if a citizen is misrepresented, subsequently convicted, and then further denied an appeal due to more misrepresentation.
Some background on the case
Ten years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that “if a defendant is represented by an ineffective lawyer during their post-conviction proceedings, and that lawyer fails to argue that the defendant was represented by an ineffective lawyer during the defendant’s trial,” defendants had the option to go to a federal court if this situation happens to them. That federal court would hear the case and study any evidence the previous attorneys failed to uncover, and would either dismiss or reaffirm any convictions based on that. This essential protection was meant to reduce the number of innocent people behind bars, a longstanding problem in our prisons.
Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez involved two defendants – David Martinez Ramirez and Barry Lee Jones – who were sentenced to death for their alleged crimes. They were denied post-conviction relief by the Arizona Supreme Court, so the men went back to federal court claiming ineffective counsel. Jones in particular claimed “his lawyers were so ineffective they failed to uncover evidence that he was innocent of the crimes,” and Ramirez claimed that his attorneys “failed to uncover mitigating evidence” that could have led to a prison sentence instead of a death sentence.
How the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act harms defendants
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, or AEDPA, was created in 1996. The aim of the act was to keep violent offenders incarcerated. What it really did, though, was make it harder to win an appeal. Per The Marshall Project:
Most criminal cases — more than 95% — go through state courts. But if someone wants to keep fighting their conviction, they can take the case to federal court.
But the 1996 law made it a lot harder to do that, adding complex technical restrictions for both prisoners and judges….
As a result, far fewer prisoners were able to get federal courts to consider — much less agree with — their claims of prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate lawyering, and other problems with their trials. In 2009, one study found that before the 1996 law, between half and two-thirds of state prisoners sentenced to death had their arguments vindicated in federal court. Afterward, that number fell to 12%.
AEDPA, with all its red tape and technicalities, harms the indigent the most because they often must rely on public defenders who do not have the time or resources to handle complex cases. This can literally be the difference between life and death.
Understanding appeals and post-conviction relief proceedings in Tennessee
The appeals process is incredibly complex and delicate. In Tennessee, there are 12 judges in our Court of Appeals, and defendants present their cases to panels of three. To give your appeal the best chances possible, hire a skilled appellate attorney who knows how to accurately recover testimony and represent your case. Delius & McKenzie has lawyers who formerly clerked on these appellate courts. Tennessee does not allow those courts to consider new evidence, but they will re-examine everything brought forth in the original hearing. Your attorney can reframe that evidence and testimony fairly, the way it should have been in your original hearing.
No matter what, the appeals process can take an incredibly long time and involve a multitude of caveats, factors, and conditions. You have the right as an American citizen to legal representation, and to have that representation work accurately and adeptly on your behalf. Take advantage of that privilege to personally choose your appellate attorney and give yourself the best chances of having your conviction overturned.
At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, our experienced team of aggressive Sevierville appellate attorneys are proud to represent citizens here and throughout Tennessee every step of the way. We serve clients throughout the state, including those in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Seymour, Gatlinburg, Bristol, Johnson City, Kingsport, and Greeneville. Please call 865-428-8780 or fill out our contact form To get started.
Attorney Bryan E. Delius was born and raised in Sevier County, TN. He founded Delius & McKenzie more than 20 years ago, after receiving his JD from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is admitted in Tennessee and in several federal court systems. Learn more about Bryan E. Delius.