New opinion — a habeas procedural affirmance

Norris v. Brooks — habeas corpus — affirmance — Hardiman

One of the most important habeas corpus cases of the past decade or so was the Supreme Court’s ruling in Martinez v. Ryan, which held that ineffective assistance of counsel at the initial state post-conviction stage can excuse procedural default of a habeas claim of trial IAC. (In Pennsylvania, “initial” means PCRA proceedings in the Court of Common Pleas, as opposed to any appeals from denial of the PCRA.) One of the key questions after Martinez was how the case would apply retroactively to prisoners whose habeas petitions had already been denied. Last year, the Third Circuit in Cox v. Horn held that such prisoners could raise Martinez claims in a motion under FRCivP 60(b) for relief from judgment.

Today, the Third Circuit ruled that a district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a prisoner’s Martinez motion under Rule 60(b) because the district court had ruled that the procedural default arose not from an error made in initial state postconviction proceedings, but instead from an error made during the postconviction appeal.

Joining Hardiman were Rendell and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Arianna Freeman of the EDPA FCD for the prisoner and Susan Affronti of the Philadelphia DA for the Commonwealth.