Garza v. Idaho, 586 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 738 (Feb. 27, 2019)

The presumption of prejudice recognized in Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000), applies regardless of whether the defendant has signed an appeal waiver. Defendant Garza signed two plea agreements arising from charges brought by the State of Idaho. Each agreement included a provision stating that Garza waived his right to appeal. The trial court accepted the agreements and sentenced Garza. Shortly thereafter Garza told his trial counsel that he wanted to appeal. Although Garza continuously reminded his attorney of this directive, counsel did not file a notice of appeal informing Garza that appeal was problematic because of the waiver. About four months after sentencing Garza sought post-conviction relief in state court, alleging that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file notices of appeal despite his requests. The trial court denied relief, and this ruling was affirmed by the state appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a split of authority on this issue.

            As a general rule, a defendant claiming ineffective assistance of counsel must prove that counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that prejudice occurred. In certain circumstances however prejudice is presumed, such as where the defendant is denied counsel at a critical stage or where counsel entirely fails to subject the prosecution’s case to meaningful adversarial testing. Additionally, in Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000), the Court held that when an attorney’s deficient performance costs a defendant an appeal that the defendant would have otherwise pursued, prejudice is presumed. The question presented in this case was: whether that rule applies even when the defendant has, in the course of pleading guilty, signed an “appeal waiver”—that is, an agreement forgoing certain, but not all, possible appellate claims. The Court held that it does.

            The Court first determined that Garza’s lawyer provided deficient performance: “Where, as here, a defendant has expressly requested an appeal, counsel performs deficiently by disregarding the defendant’s instructions.” Turning to the crux of the case, the Court held that the Flores-Ortega presumption of prejudice applied despite the appeal waiver. The Court reasoned that because there is no dispute that Garza wished to appeal, a direct application of that case resolves this one. It held: 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 the merit of his claim, regardless of whether an appeal waiver was signed.

There was dissenting opinion in this case.