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Garza v. Idaho

United States Supreme Court

February 27, 2019

GILBERTO GARZA, Jr., PETITIONER
v.
IDAHO

          Argued October 30, 2018

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF IDAHO

Petitioner Gilberto Garza, Jr., signed two plea agreements, each arising from state criminal charges and each containing a clause stating that Garza waived his right to appeal. Shortly after sentencing, Garza told his trial counsel that he wished to appeal. Instead of filing a notice of appeal, counsel informed Garza that an appeal would be "problematic" given Garza's appeal waiver. After the time period for Garza to preserve an appeal lapsed, he sought state postconviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file a notice of appeal despite his repeated requests. The Idaho trial court denied relief, and the Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed. Also affirming, the Idaho Supreme Court held that Garza could not show the requisite deficient performance by counsel and resulting prejudice. In doing so, the court concluded that the presumption of prejudice recognized in Roe v. Flares-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, when trial counsel fails to file an appeal as instructed does not apply when the defendant has agreed to an appeal waiver.

         Held:

Flores-Ortega's presumption of prejudice applies regardless of whether a defendant has signed an appeal waiver. Pp. 3-14.
(a) Under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, a defendant who claims ineffective assistance of counsel must prove (1) "that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," id., at 687-688, and (2) that any such deficiency was "prejudicial to the defense," id., at 692. However, "prejudice is presumed" in "certain Sixth Amendment contexts," ibid., such as "when counsel's constitutionally deficient performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he otherwise would have taken," Flares-Ortega, 528 U.S.___, at 484. Pp. 3-4.
(b) This case hinges on two procedural devices: appeal waivers and notices of appeal. No appeal waiver serves as an absolute bar to all appellate claims. Because a plea agreement is essentially a contract, it does not bar claims outside its scope. And, like any contract, the language of appeal waivers can vary widely, leaving many types of claims unwaived. A waived appellate claim may also proceed if the prosecution forfeits or waives the waiver or if the Government breaches the agreement. Separately, some claims are treated as unwaiveable. Most fundamentally, courts agree that defendants retain the right to challenge whether the waiver itself was knowing and voluntary.
The filing of a notice of appeal is "a purely ministerial task that imposes no great burden on counsel." Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S.___, at 474. Filing requirements reflect that appellate claims are likely to be ill defined or unknown at the filing stage. And within the division of labor between defendants and their attorneys, the "ultimate authority" to decide whether to "take an appeal" belongs to the accused. Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745, 751. Pp. 4-7.
(c) Garza's attorney rendered deficient performance by not filing a notice of appeal in light of Garza's clear requests. Given the possibility that a defendant will end up raising claims beyond an appeal waiver's scope, simply filing a notice of appeal does not necessarily breach a plea agreement. Thus, counsel's choice to override Garza's instructions was not a strategic one. In any event, the bare decision whether to appeal is ultimately the defendant's to make. Pp. 7-8.
(d) Because there is no dispute that Garza wished to appeal, a direct application of Flores-Ortega's language resolves this case. Flores-Ortega reasoned that because a presumption of prejudice applies whenever "'the accused is denied counsel at a critical stage, '" it makes greater sense to presume prejudice when counsel's deficiency forfeits an "appellate proceeding altogether." 528 U.S.___, at 483. Because Garza retained a right to appeal at least some issues despite his waivers, he had a right to a proceeding and was denied that proceeding altogether as a result of counsel's deficient performance. That he surrendered many claims by signing appeal waivers does not change things. First, the presumption of prejudice does not bend because a particular defendant seems to have had poor prospects. See, e.g., Joe Fee v. United States, 582 U.S.___, . Second, while the defendant in Flores-Ortega did not sign an appeal waiver, he did plead guilty, which "reduces the scope of potentially appealable issues" on its own. 528 U.S.___, at 480. Pp. 8-10.
(e) Contrary to the argument by Idaho and the U.S. Government, as amicus, that Garza never "had a right" to his appeal and thus that any deficient performance by counsel could not have caused the loss of any such appeal, Garza did retain a right to his appeal; he simply had fewer possible claims than some other appellants. The Government also proposes a rule that would require a defendant to show- on a case-by-case basis-that he would have presented claims that would have been considered by the appellate court on the merits. This Court, however, has already rejected attempts to condition the restoration of a defendant's appellate rights forfeited by ineffective counsel on proof that the defendant's appeal had merit. See, e.g., Rodriquez v. United States, 395 U.S. 327, 330. Moreover, it is not the defendant's role to decide what arguments to press, making it especially improper to impose that role upon the defendant simply because his opportunity to appeal was relinquished by deficient counsel. And because there is no right to counsel in postconviction proceedings and, thus, most applicants proceed pro se, the Government's proposal would be unfair, ill advised, and unworkable. Pp. 10-14.

162 Idaho 791, 405 P.3d 576, reversed and remanded.

          SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, BREYER, KAGAN, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GORSUCH, J., joined, and in which ALITO, J., joined as to Parts I and II.

          OPINION

          SOTOMAYOR JUSTICE.

         In Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000), this Court held that when an attorney's deficient performance costs a defendant an appeal that the defendant would have otherwise pursued, prejudice to the defendant should be presumed "with no further showing from the defendant of the merits of his underlying claims." Id., at 484. This case asks whether that rule applies even when the defendant has, in the course of pleading guilty, signed what is often called an "appeal waiver"-that is, an agreement forgoing certain, but not all, possible appellate claims. We hold that the presumption of prejudice recognized in Flores-Ortega applies regardless of whether the defendant has signed an appeal waiver.

         I

         In early 2015, petitioner Gilberto Garza, Jr., signed two plea agreements, each arising from criminal charges brought by the State of Idaho. Each agreement included a clause stating that Garza "waive[d] his right to appeal." App. to Pet. for Cert. 44a, 49a. The Idaho trial court accepted the agreements and sentenced Garza to terms of prison in accordance with the agreements.

         Shortly after sentencing, Garza told his trial counsel that he wished to appeal.[1] In the days that followed, he would later attest, Garza "continuously reminded" his attorney of this directive "via phone calls and letters," Record 210, and Garza's trial counsel acknowledged in his own affidavit that Garza had "told me he wanted to appeal the sentence(s) of the court," id., at 151.[2] Garza's trial counsel, however, did not file a notice of appeal. Instead, counsel "informed Mr. Garza that an appeal was problematic because he waived his right to appeal." Ibid. The period of time for Garza's appeal to be preserved came and went with no notice having been filed on Garza's behalf.

         Roughly four months after sentencing, Garza sought postconviction relief in Idaho state court. As relevant here, Garza alleged that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file notices of appeal despite Garza's requests. The Idaho trial court denied relief, and both the Idaho Court of Appeals and the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed that decision. See 162 Idaho 791, 793, 405 P.3d 576, 578 (2017). The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Garza, given the appeal waivers, needed to show both deficient performance and resulting prejudice; it concluded that he could not. See id., at 798, 405 P.3d, at 583.

         In ruling that Garza needed to show prejudice, the Idaho Supreme Court acknowledged that it was aligning itself with the minority position among courts. For exam- pie, 8 of the 10 Federal Courts of Appeals to have considered the question have applied Flores-Ortegds presumption of prejudice even when a defendant has signed an appeal waiver.[3] 162 Idaho, at 795, 405 P.3d, at 580.

         We granted certiorari to resolve the split of authority. 585 U.S.___(2018). We now reverse.

         II

         A

         The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants "the right ... to have the Assistance of Counsel for [their] defence." The right to counsel includes "'the right to the effective assistance of counsel.'" Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984) (quoting McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771, n. 14 (1970)). Under Strickland, a defendant who claims ineffective assistance of counsel must prove (1) "that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," 466 U.S.__, at 687-688, and (2) that any such deficiency was "prejudicial to the defense," id., at 692.

         "In certain Sixth Amendment contexts," however, "prejudice is presumed." Ibid. For example, no showing of prejudice is necessary "if the accused is denied counsel at a critical stage of his trial," United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 659 (1984), or left "entirely without the assistance of counsel on appeal," Penson v. Ohio, 488 U.S. 75, 88 (1988). Similarly, prejudice is presumed "if counsel entirely fails to subject the prosecution's case to meaningful adversarial testing." Cronic, 466 U.S.__, at 659. And, most relevant here, prejudice is presumed "when counsel's constitutionally deficient performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he otherwise would have taken." Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S.___, at 484. We hold today that this final presumption applies even when the defendant has signed an appeal waiver.

         B

         It is helpful, in analyzing Garza's case, to first address two procedural devices on which the case hinges: appeal waivers and notices of appeal.

         1

         We begin with the term "appeal waivers." While the term is useful shorthand for clauses like those in Garza's plea agreements, it can misleadingly suggest a monolithic end to all appellate rights.[4] In fact, however, no appeal waiver serves as an absolute bar to all appellate claims.

         As courts widely agree, "[a] valid and enforceable appeal waiver . . . only precludes challenges that fall within its scope." United States v. Hardman, 778 F.3d 896, 899 (CA11 2014); see also ibid., n. 2 (collecting cases from the 11 other Federal Courts of Appeals with criminal jurisdiction); State v. Patton, 287 Kan. 200, 228-229, 195 P.3d 753, 771 (2008). That an appeal waiver does not bar claims outside its scope follows from the fact that, "[a]lthough the analogy may not hold in all respects, plea bargains are essentially contracts." Puckett v. United States, 556 U.S. 129, 137 (2009).

         As with any type of contract, the language of appeal waivers can vary widely, with some waiver clauses leaving many types of claims unwaived.[5] Additionally, even a waived appellate claim can still go forward if the prosecution forfeits or waives the waiver. E.g., United States v. Story, 439 F.3d 226, 231 (CA5 2006). Accordingly, a defendant who has signed an appeal waiver does not, in directing counsel to file a notice of appeal, necessarily undertake a quixotic or frivolous quest.

         Separately, all jurisdictions appear to treat at least some claims as unwaiveable. Most fundamentally, courts agree that defendants retain the right to challenge whether the waiver itself is valid and enforceable-for example, on the grounds that it was unknowing or involuntary.[6] Consequently, while signing an appeal waiver means giving up some, many, or even most appellate claims, some claims nevertheless remain.

         2

         It is also important to consider what it means-and does not mean-for trial counsel to file a notice of appeal.

         "Filing such a notice is a purely ministerial task that imposes no great burden on counsel." Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S.___, at 474. It typically takes place during a compressed window: 42 days in Idaho, for example, and just 14 days in federal court. See Idaho Rule App. Proc. 14(a) (2017); Fed. Rule App. Proc. 4(b)(1)(A). By the time this window has closed, the defendant likely will not yet have important documents from the trial court, such as transcripts of key proceedings, see, e.g., Idaho Rules App. Proc. 19 and 25; Fed. Rule App. Proc. 10(b), and may well be in custody, making communication with counsel difficult, see Peguero v. United States, 526 U.S. 23, 26 (1999). And because some defendants receive new counsel for their appeals, the lawyer responsible for deciding which appellate claims to raise may not yet even be involved in the case.

         Filing requirements reflect that claims are, accordingly, likely to be ill defined or unknown at this stage. In the federal system, for example, a notice of appeal need only identify who is appealing; what "judgment, order, or part thereof is being appealed; and "the court to which the appeal is taken." Fed. Rule App. Proc. 3(c)(1). Generally speaking, state requirements are similarly nonsubstantive.[7]

         A notice of appeal also fits within a broader division of labor between defendants and their attorneys. While "the accused has the ultimate authority" to decide whether to "take an appeal," the choice of what specific arguments to make within that appeal belongs to appellate counsel. Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745, 751 (1983); see also McCoy v. Louisiana, 584 U.S.___, ___ (2018) (slip op., at 6). In other words, filing a notice of appeal is, generally speaking, a simple, nonsubstantive act that is within the defendant's prerogative.

         C

         With that context in mind, we turn to the precise legal issues here. As an initial matter, we note that Garza's attorney rendered deficient performance by not filing the notice of appeal in light of Garza's clear requests. As this Court explained in Flores-Ortega:

"We have long held that a lawyer who disregards specific instructions from the defendant to file a notice of appeal acts in a manner that is professionally unreasonable. This is so because a defendant who instructs counsel to initiate an appeal reasonably relies upon counsel to file the necessary notice. Counsel's failure to do so cannot be considered a strategic decision; filing a notice of appeal is a purely ministerial task, and the failure to file reflects ...

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