McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849 (1994)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 93-6497. Argued March 29, 1994—Decided June 30, 1994

Title 21 U. S. C. 848(q)(4)(B) entitles capital defendants to qualified legal representation in any "post conviction proceeding" under 28 U. S. C. 2254 or 2255, sections of the federal habeas corpus statute. Having failed to obtain a modification of his impending execution date in Texas state court, petitioner McFarland commenced this action in the Federal District Court by filing a pro se motion stating that he wished to challenge his conviction and death sentence under 2254, requesting the appointment of counsel under 848(q)(4)(B), and seeking a stay of execution to give that counsel time to prepare and file a habeas petition. The court denied the motion, concluding that because no "post conviction proceeding" had been initiated, McFarland was not entitled to counsel and the court lacked jurisdiction to issue a stay. In denying his subsequent stay application, the Court of Appeals noted that 2251 authorizes a federal judge, before whom a "habeas corpus proceeding is pending," to stay a state action, but held that no federal proceeding was pending because a motion for stay and for appointed counsel was not the equivalent of a habeas petition.

Held: A capital defendant need not file a formal habeas corpus petition in order to invoke his right to counsel under 848(q)(4)(B) and to establish a federal court's jurisdiction to enter a stay of execution. Pp. 854-859. (a) The language and purposes of 848(q)(4)(B) and its related provisions establish that the right to qualified appointed counsel adheres before the filing of a formal, legally sufficient habeas petition and includes a right to legal assistance in the preparation of such a petition. Thus, a "post conviction proceeding" within 848(q)(4)(B)'s meaning is commenced by the filing of a death row defendant's motion requesting the appointment of counsel for his federal habeas proceeding. McFarland filed such a motion and was entitled to the appointment of a lawyer. Pp. 854-857. (b) The District Court had jurisdiction to grant McFarland's motion for stay of execution. The language of 848(q)(4)(B) and 2251 indicates that "post conviction" and "habeas corpus" refer to the same proceeding. Thus, the two statutes must be read in pari materia to pro-


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