On February 27, 2019, the MacArthur Justice Center obtained a major victory in the U.S. Supreme Court in Garza v. Idaho. In an opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court recognized that a criminal defendant has the constitutional right to an appeal where his defense attorney improperly forfeited it, and that this right applies even where the defendant agreed to waive his right to appeal.
This case concerns one of the clearest instances in which a criminal defendant was abandoned by his defense attorney 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.
The Supreme Court had previously recognized that a criminal defendant should be presumed to have suffered prejudice when his lawyer refuses to file an appeal. However, in Mr. Garza’s case and numerous other cases across the country, courts refused to find prejudice if the defendant had signed a plea agreement which purported to waive his right to appeal. Courts instead required these defendants—without the help of an attorney—to identify the points that their attorney would have raised in an appeal.
The Supreme Court’s decision puts a decisive end to that unfair practice, explaining that the constitutional right to a new appeal extends to defendants who have signed an appeal waiver. “[W]hen counsel’s constitutionally deficient performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he otherwise would have taken,” the Court explained, “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 his claims’ merit, regardless of whether the defendant has signed an appeal waiver.”
The MacArthur Justice Center began representing Mr. Garza beginning at the petition for certiorari stage, persuading the Supreme Court to grant review of his case. MJC attorneys then submitted briefs and argued the case on behalf of Mr. Garza to victory.