Supreme Court to rule on faulty plea bargain advice

Supreme Court to rule on faulty plea bargain advice

Supreme Court

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari in two new cases [order list, PDF] on Monday. In Burt v. Titlow [cert. petition, PDF; docket] the court will consider several issues surrounding ineffective counsel under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) [text]. In the case, Vonlee Titlow was advised to reject a plea deal after acquiring a new attorney in the beginning of trial proceedings. As a result, she received a longer sentence, which the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found [opinion] was in violation of the Sixth Amendment [text].

In Kansas v. Cheever [cert. petition, PDF; docket] the court will consider whether it violates the Fifth Amendment [text] right against self-incrimination if a defendant offers expert testimony to show he/she lacked a requisite mental state at the time of the crime due to drug use and the prosecution offers the court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant to rebut the testimony.

The court also denied Calhoun v. United States [cert. petition, PDF; docket], with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer releasing a comment [text, PDF] with respect to the denial of certiorari. The case concerned the constitutionality of racially-tinged remarks by the prosecution at the trial level, including the prosecutor asking Bongani Calhoun, “You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you—a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, This is a drug deal?” Further, in his rebuttal to the defense’s closing, the prosecutor argued: “Okay, you got African-American[s] and Hispanics, do you think it’s a drug deal? But there’s one element that’s missing. The money. So what are they doing in this room with a bag full of money? What does your common sense tell you that these people are doing in a hotel room with a bag full of money, cash? None of these people are Bill Gates or computer [magnates]? None of them are real estate investors.” Sotomayor wrote separately condemning the remarks:

By suggesting that race should play a role in establishing a defendant’s criminal intent, the prosecutor here tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation. There was a time when appeals to race were not uncommon, when a prosecutor might direct a jury to “consider the fact that Mary Sue Rowe is a young white woman and that this defendant is a black man for the purpose of determining his intent at the time he entered Mrs. Rowe’s home,” … or assure a jury that “I am well enough acquainted with this class of niggers to know that they have got it in for the [white] race in their heart,” … The prosecutor’s comment here was surely less extreme. But it too was pernicious in its attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence, and racial prejudice for reason.

Due to Calhoun not raising the issue that racial questioning affected the outcome of his trial in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the court denied certiorari.