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Oropeza v. Pierce

United States District Court, District of Delaware

March 12, 2014

KEVIN B. OROPEZA, Petitioner,
v.
DAVID PIERCE, Warden, and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents.[1]

MEMORANDUM ORDER

IT IS ORDERED that petitioner Kevin B. Oropeza's motion for representation by counsel (D.I. 42) is DENIED without prejudice to renew, for the reasons that follow:

1. It is well-settled that a petitioner does not have an automatic constitutional or statutory right to representation in a federal habeas proceeding. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 752 (1991); United States v. Roberson, 194 F.3d 408, 415 n.5 (3d Cir. 1999). Nevertheless, a court may seek representation by counsel for a petitioner who demonstrates "special circumstances indicating the likelihood of substantial prejudice to [petitioner] resulting . . . from [petitioner's] probable inability without such assistance to present the facts and legal issues to the court in a complex but arguably meritorious case." See Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 154 (3d Cir. 1993)(citing Smith-Bey v. Petsock, 741 F.2d 22, 26 (3d Cir. 1984); 18 U.S.C. § 3006A (a)(2)(B) (representation by counsel may be provided when a court determines that the "interests of justice so require"). Factors to be considered by a court in deciding whether to request a lawyer to represent an indigent petitioner include: (1) the merits of the petitioner's claim; (2) the petitioner's ability to present his or her case considering his or her education, literacy, experience, and the restraints placed upon him or her by incarceration; (3) the complexity of the legal issues; (4) the degree to which factual investigation is required and the petitioner's ability to pursue such investigation; (5) the petitioner's capacity to retain counsel on his or her own behalf; and (6) the degree to which the case turns on credibility determinations or expert testimony. Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 498-99 (3d Cir. 2002); Tabron, 6 F.3d at 155-56.

2. Here, petitioner requests representation by counsel because he was not provided representation during his Rule 61 proceeding in the Delaware state courts. Citing Martinez v. Ryan, __ U.S.__, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012), petitioner contends that the United States Supreme Court recognized an exception to Coleman's general rule that there is no automatic constitutional right to counsel in collateral proceedings, and asserts that he needs representation in order to present ineffective assistance of counsel claims in the instant habeas proceeding. (D.I. 42 at 1)

3. Contrary to petitioner's assertion, Martinez did not recognize or create an automatic constitutional right to counsel in collateral proceedings. See Martinez, 132 S.Ct. at 1319. Rather, Martinez held for the first time that the ineffective assistance of counsel during initial collateral review proceedings, or the failure to appoint counsel during initial collateral review proceedings, may establish cause in a federal habeas proceeding sufficient to excuse a petitioner's procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel when, under state law, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel must be raised in an initial review collateral proceeding rather than on direct appeal. Id. (emphasis added). In other words, Martinez creates a limited method for petitioners in federal habeas cases to prove cause for excusing their state court procedural default of certain ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

4. Consequently, even after Martinez, a federal habeas court presented with a motion requesting representation by counsel must still determine if the petitioner has demonstrated special circumstances such that the interests of justice require representation.

5. After viewing petitioner's motion in conjunction with petitioner's other filings in this case, the court concludes that the interests of justice do not require representation by counsel at this time. Petitioner's filings demonstrate his ability to articulate his claims and represent himself. The case appears to be fairly straightforward and capable of resolution on the record. It also does not appear that expert testimony will be necessary or that the ultimate resolution of the petition will depend upon credibility determinations. For these reasons, the court denies petitioner's motion.


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