On Monday, January 15, 2024, The New York Times reported that Joseph Gamboa, a death row inmate from Texas, has taken his case to the US Supreme Court, arguing that he deserves a new chance at challenging his conviction due to ineffective legal representation.

Gamboa was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007 for two murders during a robbery. He has maintained his innocence throughout. He then was appointed a lawyer, John J. Ritenour Jr., to represent him in filing a federal habeas petition appealing his conviction. However, court documents show that Ritenour’s legal work for Gamboa was grossly deficient. He met with Gamboa only once before filing the petition. At that meeting, Gamboa provided documents suggesting another man committed the killings, but Ritenour did not pursue that angle. Ritenour later admitted to Gamboa that he believed Gamboa was guilty.

The petition Ritenour filed was largely copied verbatim from an earlier case, including another client’s name. It did not include any of Gamboa’s suggested arguments and was not signed by Gamboa as required. Ritenour then filed an extraordinary reply brief conceding all of Gamboa’s claims had no existing precedent.

After new lawyers took over Gamboa’s case, they sought permission for Gamboa to file a new petition, arguing Ritenour’s ineffective representation denied Gamboa his sole opportunity for federal habeas relief. But lower courts denied this, ruling Ritenour’s incompetence counted as wasting Gamboa’s one chance.

Gamboa’s appeal now before the Supreme Court centers on whether such deficient legal work by an appointed attorney should allow a second attempt at habeas relief or if the client must bear responsibility. A decision by the high court is pending and could impact other death row cases involving allegations of ineffective counsel.



Source: The New York Time