University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

From the 2017 News Archive
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Prof. Lee Kovarsky Argues Before the Supreme Court (Oct. 30)

Legal Funds for Death Row Inmates

 

In its first case of the session, the justices will review the Fifth Circuit’s rule on which

death row inmates are eligible to receive funds to help challenge their sentences.

The case, Ayestas v. Davis, involves the Fifth Circuit’s “substantial need” rule, which

requires defendants seeking additional resources for a claim of ineffective assistance of

counsel to show how their attorney’s performance deprived them of their Sixth

Amendment right to assistance of counsel.

 

Petitioner Carlos Ayestas says that rule is “circular” as it requires defendants to prove

ineffective assistance before they can receive additional resources to prove ineffective

assistance. Ayestas was sentenced to death in 1995 for killing a 67-year-old woman during

a robbery in Houston.

 

The American Bar Association has filed an amicus brief in favor of Ayestas, saying the Fifth

Circuit’s rule “prevents counsel representing indigent petitioners from fulfilling their

professional responsibilities in this critical stage of proceedings, thereby increasing the risk

of an unjust execution.”

 

Ayestas had also claimed that state prosecutors sought the death penalty because of his

Honduran nationality, a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments. According to

Ayestas, a Harris County prosecutor listed the fact that “the defendant is not a citizen” as

an aggravating circumstance supporting a capital charge in an internal memo that was

uncovered by his counsel in December 2014. In granting Ayestas’ petition for certiorari in

April, however, the Supreme Court limited its review to the question about the “substantial

need” rule.

 

University of Maryland professor Lee Kovarsky will argue on behalf of Ayestas, facing off

against Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller.

 

The case is Ayestas v. Davis, case number 16-6795.


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Admissions: PHONE: (410) 706-3492 FAX: (410) 706-1793

Copyright © 2018, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved