New opinion — a habeas reversal based on Martinez v. Ryan

Lambert v. Warden — habeas corpus — reversal — Ambro

The Third Circuit today held that an error by a habeas petitioner’s post-conviction counsel excused the procedural default of his claim that his trial counsel was ineffective. This is the court’s third major case applying Martinez v. Ryan, following Cox v. Horn in 2014 and Bey v. Superintendent earlier this year.

The appeal arose from a joint criminal trial of two defendants. The prosecution introduced evidence that the other defendant made certain statements to his psychiatrist, and at closing the prosecutor argued that those out-of-court statements helped prove this defendant’s guilt. Trial counsel didn’t ask for a limiting instruction based on this alleged Confrontation Clause violation. PCRA counsel didn’t argue that trial counsel was ineffective, explaining in a no-merit letter that the statements were party admissions.

The Third Circuit held today that the trial-ineffectiveness claim had some merit and that PCRA counsel was ineffective for not raising it, thus excusing under Martinez the default of the trial ineffectiveness claim. The court remanded for an evidentiary hearing on trial counsel’s ineffectiveness.

Joining Ambro were Vanaskie and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Cheryl Sturm of Chadds Ford, PA, for the petitioner and Catherine Kiefer of the Philadelphia DA’s office for the Commonwealth.

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