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Garza v Idaho: SCOTUS Recap

Prejudice is presumed when an attorney fails to file a notice of appeal after a client requests it, even if the client executed an appeal waiver as a part of a plea agreement, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled February 27 in Garza v. Idaho. 
Prejudice is presumed when an attorney fails to file a notice of appeal after a client requests it, even if the client executed an appeal waiver as a part of a plea agreement, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled February 27 in Garza v. Idaho.

Facts

Gilberto Garza entered into two plea agreements which waived his right to appeal. But shortly after sentencing, Garza told his attorney he wanted to appeal.

Garza's attorney refused to file a notice of appeal because of the appeal waiver. Garza sought postconviction relief, claiming he received ineffective assistance due to his attorney's failure to appeal.

The Idaho Supreme Court held that, given the appeal waivers, Garza needed to show both deficient performance and prejudice.

Holding

The Supreme Court granted cert to resolve a conflict among lower courts whether prejudice must be shown in the face of an appeal waiver.

The Court, in a 6-3 opinion, held that prejudice need not be shown.

As an initial matter, the Court noted that no appeal waiver is ever “absolute.” At a minimum, a defendant can always challenge whether the waiver is valid and enforceable, and whether it was knowing and voluntary, the Court said.

Furthermore, filing a notice of appeal is a “purely ministerial task that imposes no great burden on counsel,” and typically must take place within a short time period, the Court said.

“A notice of appeal also fits within the broader division of labor between defendants and their attorneys,” the Court said. A defendant has the “ultimate authority” to decide whether to take an appeal, while the attorney has the authority to decide what specific arguments to raise on appeal.

Turning to the issue of prejudice, the Court held that this case presented a “straightforward application” of the Court's prior ruling in Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000). There, the Court held that when an attorney's deficient performance costs a defendant an appeal that the defendant would otherwise have pursued, prejudice is presumed with no further showing about the merits of the underlying claims.

Thus, “[w]hen counsel's deficient performance forfeits an appeal that a defendant otherwise would have taken, the defendant gets a new opportunity to appeal,” the Court said. This “rule does no more than restore the status quo that existed before counsel's deficient performance forfeited the appeal, and it allows an appellate court to consider the appeal as that court otherwise would have done.”

Justice Thomas, joined by Justices Gorsuch and Alito, dissented.

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