Supreme Court hears right to counsel, <i>habeas</i> cases

Supreme Court hears right to counsel, habeas cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Tuesday in three cases. In Montejo v. Louisiana [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether an indigent defendant must affirmatively accept appointment of an attorney to invoke Sixth Amendment protection from police-initiated interrogation in the absence of counsel. The petitioner Jesse Jay Montejo was being questioned in connection with a murder when he requested an attorney and then rescinded his request. Montejo was then brought before a judge for a hearing to appoint counsel, but he did not affirmatively accept the appointment. Montejo sought to suppress statements made after the hearing. The Supreme Court of Louisiana [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that a defendant has not "requested" counsel if he accepts court-appointed counsel without making some affirmative statement that he wishes to be represented. At oral argument, counsel for the petitioner argued:

nothing in this Court's precedents or, frankly, in common sense supports a rule that affords less Sixth Amendment protection to defendants who are automatically appointed counsel at initial hearings than to defendants who are appointed counsel after a request for counsel …

Counsel for the state argued:

The generous prophylactic rule of Michigan v. Jackson which imputed a defendant's request for counsel in one forum, i.e., his arraignment, to another forum of post-attachment custodial interrogation should not be expanded in this case to a defendant who has done nothing whatsoever to make such a request.

In Vermont v. Brillon [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether delays caused solely by a public defender may violate a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Respondent Michael Brillon faced assault charges, awaiting trial for three years while he was assigned to six different public defenders. The Vermont Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion text] that the delay violated Brillon's rights. Counsel for the state argued:

If we assume that public defenders do little or nothing in a case, one cannot have a rule that that time is chargeable under the speedy trial right to the State because to do so creates chaos of constitutional proportions in the criminal justice system.

Counsel for the respondent argued that, "there is nothing in the record to suggest that" this was "an attempt to manipulate the court."

In Knowles v. Mirzayance [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether a lawyer’s recommendation that the defendant withdraw an insanity plea constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel for purposes of a federal habeas claim. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] held [opinion, PDF] that it does. Counsel for the state argued that the defendant, "was not entitled to Federal habeas corpus relief on his ineffective counsel claim because the State court adjudication of that claim was not contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, the clearly established Strickland test." Counsel for the respondent argued that, "the decision has to be made on whether counsel's decision, as he faced the trial facts, was objectively reasonable."