Garza v. Idaho (U.S. Supreme Court)

Access to Courts

The U.S. Supreme Court has long urged that “[t]he need for forceful advocacy does not come to an abrupt halt as the legal proceeding moves from the trial to appellate stage.” Penson v. Ohio, 488 U.S. 75, 85 (1988).  This case concerns one of the clearest instances in which a client has been abandoned by his lawyer and deprived of his right to appellate review.

After pleading guilty, Gilberto Garza, Jr., instructed his attorney to file an appeal, but his attorney refused to do so.  As a result, Mr. Garza’s attorney deprived him of appellate review of the legality of his plea and sentence, during which he would have had a constitutional right to a lawyer.

Under well-established Supreme Court precedent, a lawyer’s refusal to file an appeal is presumed to have prejudiced the defendant. However, in this case, the Supreme Court of Idaho refused to presume prejudice from the deprivation of Mr. Garza’s appeal (and his right to counsel on appeal), and instead required Mr. Garza to identify the points that his counsel would have raised on direct appeal.

Such a rule is grossly inequitable.  It would mean that upon being wronged by a trial lawyer and deprived of a right to direct appeal—through no fault of the defendant’s own—a defendant must not only meet a higher standard, but must meet that higher standard without the right to a lawyer that he would have been entitled to on direct appeal. The MacArthur Justice Center filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to correct this rule and on June 18, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review.

Filed - January 23, 2018

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