Ruling Expands Protection for Ineffective Assistance Claims

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A 6-3 Supreme Court majority has expanded defendants’ rights to claim ineffective assistance of counsel, Courthouse News Service reports. The majority held that defendants whose cases suffered because their lawyers performed poorly are entitled to the benefit of presumed prejudice even in cases where they waived their rights to appeal. Prejudice to the defendant should be presumed “when an attorney’s deficient performance costs a defendant an appeal that the defendant would have otherwise pursued,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority.

Idaho courts had ruled against Gilberto Garza Jr., who signed away his appellate chances in 2015 when he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and possession of a controlled substance. Garza later complained that his lawyer ignored his demands to file notices of appeal. Joined in dissent by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas said the new holding creates a “defendant-always-wins” rule.

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