Supreme Court Holds that Counsel's Failure to Appeal at Client's Request Prejudices Client, Even with Plea Waiver

April 25, 2019 8:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Nate Nieman


The defendant in Garza entered into two plea agreements in which he agreed to waive his right to appeal. Garza v. Idaho, 139 S. Ct. 738, 742 (2019). Garza was then sent to prison. Id. Garza repeatedly told his attorney that he wished to appeal after he was sentenced, but Garza’s attorney did not file a notice of appeal because Garza had waived his right to appeal through the plea agreements. Id. at 743.


Garza sought post-conviction relief after the time for filing a notice of appeal had run, claiming that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to file a notice of appeal at Garza’s request. Id. The trial court denied the petition, and the Idaho Court of Appeals and Idaho Supreme Court affirmed that decision. Id. The Idaho Supreme Court held that “Garza, given the appeal waivers, needed to show both deficient performance and resulting prejudice; it concluded that he could not.” Garza v. Idaho, 139 S. Ct. at 743. The Idaho Supreme Court joined a minority of courts in ruling that Garza needed to show prejudice. Id. Eight out of ten Federal Courts of Appeals have held a presumption of prejudice applies “even when a defendant has signed an appeal waiver.” Id. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the split of authority. Id.


The court began its analysis by invoking its decision in Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000), which held that prejudice is presumed under the second prong of the Strickland ineffective assistance of counsel test “when counsel’s constitutionally deficient performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he otherwise would have taken.” Id. at 744. The question in this case was whetherFlores-Ortega applied when a defendant signed an appeal waiver. The Garza court held that it did. Id.


The court reasoned that “while signing an appeal waiver means giving up some, many, or even most appellate claims, some claims nevertheless remain,” Garza v. Idaho, 139 S. Ct. at 745, such as the right to challenge whether the waiver itself was valid and enforceable. Id. The court also determined that “a notice of appeal is, generally speaking, a simple, nonsubstantive act that is within the defendant’s prerogative,” id. at 746, not the attorney’s. The court concluded that “Where, as here, a defendant has expressly requested an appeal, counsel performs deficiently by disregarding the defendant’s instructions.” Id.


The court found that Flores-Ortega resolved the “prejudice” issue in this case, reaffirming that “‘when counsel’s constitutionally deficient performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he otherwise would have taken, the defendant has made out a successful ineffective assistance of counsel claim entitling him to an appeal,’ with no need for a ‘further showing’ of his claims’ merit, ibid., regardless of whether the defendant has signed an appeal waiver.” Id. at 747. 


The court rejected Idaho’s argument that Garza was not deprived of his right to appeal because he “never ‘had a right’” to do so. Id. at 748. The court responded that “Garza did retain a right to his appeal; he simply had fewer possible claims than some other appellants.”Id. Idaho’s argument was at odds with the rule already in place in most of the federal circuits that “When counsel’s deficient performance forfeits an appeal that a defendant otherwise would have taken, the defendant gets a new opportunity to appeal.” Garza, 139 S. Ct. at 749. Idaho could not persuade the Supreme Court to depart from the majority of jurisdictions that have adopted this rule.Id.


The Garza court therefore held that “the presumption of prejudice recognized in Flores-Ortega applies regardless of whether a defendant has signed an appeal waiver. This ruling follows squarely from Flores-Ortega and from the fact that even the broadest appeal waiver does not deprive a defendant of all appellate claims. Accordingly where, as here, an attorney performed deficiently in failing to file a notice of appeal despite the defendant’s express instructions, prejudice is presumed ‘with no further showing from the defendant of the merits of his underlying claims.’” Id. at 749-50 (citing Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. at 484).

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