Ayestas v. Davis

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office produced a memo recommending that the death penalty be sought against Carlos Ayestas because “the defendant is not a citizen.” He was ultimately sentenced to death after his appointed trial lawyers, in the course of their sentencing investigation, ignored crucial mental health and substance abuse evidence that significantly undermined the appropriateness of the death penalty. His state post-conviction lawyer reproduced trial counsel’s errors. Finally, federal habeas counsel requested funding to investigate the pertinent parts of Mr. Ayestas’ life history and mental health, but that funding was denied. In April 2017, Powell Project attorneys Lee Kovarsky and Callie Heller secured a grant of certiorari review from the Supreme Court. The Court will examine the circumstances under which federal courts must authorize funds for the investigation and mental health experts necessary to enforce constitutional rights in federal habeas proceedings.