Giving Meaning to “Meaningful Enough”: Why Trevino Requires New Counsel on Appeal

March 1, 2014

Generally, defendants cannot raise new claims in a writ of habeas corpus unless they can accomplish the difficult task of showing that they could not have raised the claims earlier. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court laid out an equitable exception that allows defendants to claim—for the first time in a writ of habeas corpus—that they had an ineffective trial attorney if their failure to make a timely claim was due to a second ineffective attorney or no attorney whatsoever. The exception, however, only applied to defendants in states that required ineffective assistance claims to be brought in collateral proceedings, as opposed to allowing the claims on direct appeal. However, a year later, when faced with inequity in Texas, the Court broadened the exception, applying it to any state that does not provide a defendant with a meaningful opportunity to initially raise that claim, regardless of the forum they chose.

In doing so, the Court neglected to explain how “a meaningful opportunity” should be measured. This Note seeks to provide that explanation, arguing that it must depend on whether a defendant is provided with a new, unconflicted attorney on appeal. If the same attorney represents a defendant at trial and on appeal, a defendant cannot meaningfully challenge his lawyer’s performance at trial. If a defendant does not receive new counsel on appeal, habeas courts should consider claims of ineffective assistance regardless of the procedural history of the case.

March 2014

No. 4