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Stanko v. Stirling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

November 19, 2019

Stephen C. Stanko, Petitioner,
v.
Bryan P. Stirling and Michael Stephan, Respondents.

          ORDER

          Shiva V. Hodges, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Stephen C. Stanko (“Petitioner”) is a state prisoner sentenced to death. This matter is before the court on Petitioner's request for counsel [ECF No. 1] and motion to proceed in forma pauperis [ECF No. 2].[1] Respondents have filed a response [ECF No. 7], to which Petitioner replied [ECF No. 8].

         I. Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         After a careful review of Petitioner's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and supporting affidavit, the court finds Petitioner should be relieved of the obligation to prepay the full filing fee. Petitioner's motion to proceed in forma pauperis [ECF No. 2] is granted.

         II. Motion for Appointment of Counsel

         Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2), indigent death-sentenced prisoners are “entitled to the appointment of one or more attorneys” to pursue federal habeas corpus remedies. Further, “the right to counsel necessarily includes a right for that counsel meaningfully to research and present a defendant's habeas claims.” McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 858 (1994). Thus, § 3599 contemplates the appointment of qualified counsel prior to the filing of a petition for writ of habeas corpus. In addition, § 3599 sets forth the required qualifications for appointed counsel in capital cases:

(c) If the appointment is made after judgment, at least one attorney so appointed must have been admitted to practice in the court of appeals for not less than five years, and must have had not less than three years experience in the handling of appeals in that court in felony cases.
(d) With respect to subsection[] . . . (c), the court, for good cause, may appoint another attorney whose background, knowledge, or experience would otherwise enable him or her to properly represent the defendant, with due consideration to the seriousness of the possible penalty and to the unique and complex nature of the litigation.

18 U.S.C. § 3599(c)-(d).

         In addition, pursuant to the District of South Carolina's plan for implementing the Criminal Justice Act (“CJA”), this court maintains a panel of qualified attorneys available to represent indigent defendants. See In re Amendments to the Plan of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina for Implementing the Criminal Justice Act, No. 3:18-mc-00199-CIV (D.S.C. June 1, 2018) (“CJA Plan”). Recognizing the particular complexity of capital cases, the CJA Plan instructs the court to utilize the expert services available through the Administrative Office of the United States (“AO”), which include capital habeas units and federal community defender offices, where appropriate. CJA Plan § XIV(B)(4). Further, “[a]ll attorneys appointed in federal capital cases must be well qualified, by virtue of their training, commitment, and distinguished prior capital defense experience at the relevant stage of the proceeding, to serve as counsel in this highly specialized and demanding litigation” and “must have sufficient time and resources to devote to the representation, taking into account their current caseloads and the extraordinary demands of federal capital cases.” Id. § XIV(B)(6), (7).

         Specifically regarding appointment of counsel in capital habeas matters, the CJA Plan provides the following guidance:

3. Out-of-District Counsel, including federal defender organization staff, who possess the requisite expertise may be considered for appointment as co-counsel in § 2254 cases to achieve cost and other efficiencies together with high quality representation.
. . . .
6. Counsel in capital ยง 2254 cases should have distinguished prior experience in the area of federal post-conviction proceedings and in ...

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