Washington Law Review


Michael Ellis


Martinez v. Ryan opened a door previously closed to federal habeas petitioners. In the past, where attorney negligence or a pro se defendant’s lack of legal knowledge caused ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims to be procedurally defaulted, those claims were likely lost forever. Now, following Martinez, petitioners get a second chance should they satisfy the Supreme Court’s four-pronged test. The Martinez test, however, is not a simple one. This Comment addresses some problems concerning the four-pronged test, including multiple and conflicting standards for the same element, tensions between Martinez and the underlying Strickland v. Washington ineffective-assistance-of-counsel standard, and confusion where the same term of art is used in different contexts. The proposed modifications would simplify Martinez for petitioners—ideally resulting in more evidentiary hearings exploring underlying ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims in federal district court.

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