The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against two men on Arizona's death row who complained they received inadequate legal defense, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced the decision as "perverse" and "illogical."
The court ruled 6-3 along ideological lines that David Martinez Ramirez and Barry Jones, who were convicted in separate cases, cannot raise evidence of ineffective counsel during a federal appeal because they didn't present it in state court, where they also allege they received ineffective representation during that appeal.
"This decision is perverse," Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. "It is illogical: It makes no sense to excuse a habeas petitioner’s counsel’s failure to raise a claim altogether because of ineffective assistance in postconviction proceedings ... but to fault the same petitioner for that postconviction counsel’s failure to develop evidence in support of the trial-ineffectiveness claim."
Justice Clarence Thomas, however, argued in his majority opinion that a federal court hearing evidence that a death row inmate might be innocent was an insult to state authority.
"Such intervention is also an affront to the State and its citizens who returned a verdict of guilt after considering the evidence before them," Thomas wrote. "Federal courts, years later, lack the competence and authority to relitigate a State’s criminal case."