Supreme Court rules on faulty plea bargain advice

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday in Burt v. Titlow [SCOTUSblog] that the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] did not apply an appropriate standard of review when it ruled [opinion] that counsel was ineffective. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion, explaining that, in the context of a prisoner asking a federal court to set aside a sentence due to ineffective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining, the federal court must apply a "doubly deferential" standard of review that would give both the state court and the defense attorney the presumption of competence. The court ruled that the Sixth Circuit failed on both counts, but did note:

Despite our conclusion that there was no factual or legal justification for overturning the state court's decision, we recognize that [Titlow's attorney's] conduct in this litigation was far from exemplary. He may well have violated the rules of professional conduct by accepting respondent's publication rights as partial payment for his services, and he waited weeks before consulting respondent's first lawyer about the case. But the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee the right to perfect counsel; it promises only the right to effective assistance, and we have held that a lawyer's violation of ethical norms does not make the lawyer per se ineffective. Troubling as [Titlow's attorney's] actions were, they were irrelevant to the narrow question that was before the Sixth Circuit: whether the state court reasonably determined that respondent was adequately advised before deciding to withdraw the guilty plea. Because the Michigan Court of Appeals' decision that respondent was so advised is reasonable and supported by the record, the Sixth Circuit's judgment is reversed.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred only in the judgment.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] to this case in February. In the case, Vonlee Titlow was advised to reject a plea deal after acquiring a new attorney in the beginning of trial proceedings. As a result, she received a longer sentence, which Sixth Circuit found was in violation of the Sixth Amendment [text]. The court heard arguments [JURIST report] in the case last month.

 

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