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Martel v. Clair

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: December 6, 2011
Case #: 10-1265
Ninth Circuit (403 Fed.Appx. 276)
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/memoranda/2010/11/17/05-99005.pdf

Habeas Corpus: Whether a condemned state prisoner in a federal habeas proceeding is entitled to replace his court appointed attorney with another court appointed attorney based on his dissatisfaction with the initial attorney's performance.

Clair, a federal habeas petitioner in a capital case, petitioned to have new counsel assigned to him. He alleged both general inattention of counsel to his case and that his counsel was reluctant to pursue new physical evidence that was unavailable at the time of his conviction. While there is no standard to judge the petition for new counsel of a federal habeas petitioner, the district court applied the standard used for non-capital habeas petitioners. This standard gives discretion to the court to replace counsel when it would be in the interest of justice. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the district court had abused this discretion, and vacated the district court's denial.

Petitioner argues that the standard for the replacement of counsel should be read narrowly. Counsel in capital cases are appointed for long-term service to the condemned, and should not be dismissible due to disagreements in the prosecution of appeals. Appellant argues that habeas counsel should only be dismissed if the counsel is statutorily unqualified, suffers from a disabling conflict of interest, or has abandoned the client.