Prof. Kovarsky argued on behalf of petitioner in Ayestas v. Davis on October 21, 2017. On March 21, 2018, the Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision in favor of petitioner.
A significant access-to-justice case involving a death row inmate, Ayestas clarifies that the standard governing the assistance to be provided in capital cases is assistance that is “reasonably necessary,” rather than assistance for which there is a “substantial need.” Petitioner had been denied funds for investigative services that would support his entitlement to habeas relief related to ineffective assistance of counsel. Such funding is authorized by 18 U.S.C. §3599(f), but the Fifth Circuit applied a “substantial need” standard and rejected the request. Professor Kovarsky argued, and the Court agreed, that a “substantial need” standard is more demanding and imposes a heavier burden on a defendant than the “reasonably necessary” standard prescribed in the statute. Justice Alito wrote for the Court, with a concurrence by Justice Sotomayor joined by Justice Ginsburg.
In congratulating Professor Kovarsky and commenting on this important victory, Dean Donald Tobin stated, “A 9-0 victory in a case involving the death penalty is an incredible accomplishment. This case is really about access to justice. It provides more opportunity for low-income individuals to obtain funds for investigation necessary for meaningful defense and fair representation.”