Innocence is Not Enough?—The Negative Impact of Shinn v. Ramirez on Criminal Defendants’ Sixth Amendment Rights


Imagine you are charged with murder. You know you are innocent, but the jury must be convinced. You can’t afford to hire an expensive attorney, so you utilize your Sixth Amendment right to a court-appointed public defender. You have evidence of your innocence, including a strong alibi, but your appointed attorney is so overworked and underpaid that he does not have the time to meet with you before your trial. As a result, he fails to raise your evidence of innocence in court and you are convicted. Frustrated and scared, you appeal and receive a new court-appointed attorney at the appellate level. You tell him about the ineffective counsel below and your evidence. To your dismay, he too fails to raise the evidence of your innocence or any arguments of ineffective counsel at trial. Your conviction is affirmed. At this stage, you have no constitutional right to an attorney, but facing desperation, you manage to hire one. You file a writ of habeas corpus claim in federal court, where you try to raise claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and finally introduce your evidence of innocence. The court tells you that because these claims were not raised at the state court level, they are procedurally defaulted, and you may not bring them. It feels as if you are now being convicted due to procedural defaults and not evidence of guilt, as if you are being punished for relying on your attorneys to adequately represent you. While this scenario feels far-fetched to those who believe strongly in the integrity of our criminal justice system, it is arguably exactly what happened to Barry Jones in Shinn v. Ramirez, a case that made its way to the Supreme Court in the 2021 October term.


SHINN V. RAMIREZ, Innocence, Sixth Amendment



Madeline Wingert



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