Garza v. Idaho

Citation139 S.Ct. 738,203 L.Ed.2d 77
Decision Date27 February 2019
Docket NumberNo. 17-1026,17-1026
Parties Gilberto GARZA, Jr., Petitioner v. IDAHO
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

139 S.Ct. 738
203 L.Ed.2d 77

Gilberto GARZA, Jr., Petitioner

No. 17-1026

Supreme Court of the United States.

Argued October 30, 2018
Decided February 27, 2019

Amir H. Ali, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Kenneth K. Jorgensen, Boise, ID, for Respondent.

Allon Kedem, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the court, supporting the respondent.

Catherine E. Stetson, Colleen E. Roh Sinzdak, Mitchell P. Reich, Hogan Lovells US LLP, Washington, DC, Eric D. Fredericksen, Erik R. Lehtinen, Maya P. Waldron, Idaho State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, ID, Amir H. Ali, Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Washington, DC, David M. Shapiro, Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Chicago, IL, for petitioner

Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General of Idaho, Paul R. Panther, Chief, Criminal Law Division, Kenneth K. Jorgensen, Counsel of Record, Kale D. Gans, Deputy Attorneys General, Criminal Law Division, Boise, ID, for respondent.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

139 S.Ct. 742

In Roe v. Flores-Ortega , 528 U.S. 470, 120 S.Ct. 1029, 145 L.Ed.2d 985 (2000), this Court held that when an attorney’s deficient performance costs a defendant an appeal that the defendant would have otherwise pursued, prejudice to the defendant should be presumed "with no further showing from the defendant of the merits of his underlying claims." Id., at 484, 120 S.Ct. 1029. This case asks whether that rule applies even when the defendant has, in the course of pleading guilty, signed what is often called an "appeal waiver"—that is, an agreement forgoing certain, but not all, possible appellate claims. We hold that the presumption of prejudice recognized in Flores-Ortega applies regardless of whether the defendant has signed an appeal waiver.


In early 2015, petitioner Gilberto Garza, Jr., signed two plea agreements, each arising from criminal charges brought by the State of Idaho. Each agreement included a clause stating that Garza "waive[d] his right to appeal." App. to Pet. for Cert. 44a, 49a. The Idaho trial court accepted the agreements and sentenced Garza to terms of prison in accordance with the agreements.

139 S.Ct. 743

Shortly after sentencing, Garza told his trial counsel that he wished to appeal.1 In the days that followed, he would later attest, Garza "continuously reminded" his attorney of this directive "via phone calls and letters," Record 210, and Garza’s trial counsel acknowledged in his own affidavit that Garza had "told me he wanted to appeal the sentence(s) of the court," id., at 151.2 Garza’s trial counsel, however, did not file a notice of appeal. Instead, counsel "informed Mr. Garza that an appeal was problematic because he waived his right to appeal." Ibid. The period of time for Garza’s appeal to be preserved came and went with no notice having been filed on Garza’s behalf.

Roughly four months after sentencing, Garza sought postconviction relief in Idaho state court. As relevant here, Garza alleged that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file notices of appeal despite Garza’s requests. The Idaho trial court denied relief, and both the Idaho Court of Appeals and the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed that decision. See 162 Idaho 791, 793, 405 P.3d 576, 578 (2017). The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Garza, given the appeal waivers, needed to show both deficient performance and resulting prejudice; it concluded that he could not. See id., at 798, 405 P.3d at 583.

In ruling that Garza needed to show prejudice, the Idaho Supreme Court acknowledged that it was aligning itself with the minority position among courts. For example, 8 of the 10 Federal Courts of Appeals to have considered the question have applied Flores-Ortega ’s presumption of prejudice even when a defendant has signed an appeal waiver.3 162 Idaho, at 795, 405 P.3d at 580.

We granted certiorari to resolve the split of authority. 585 U. S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 2649, 201 L.Ed.2d 1048 (2018). We now reverse.



The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants "the right ... to have the Assistance of Counsel for [their] defence." The right to counsel includes " ‘the right to the effective assistance of counsel.’ "

139 S.Ct. 744

Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 686, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984) (quoting McMann v. Richardson , 397 U.S. 759, 771, n. 14, 90 S.Ct. 1441, 25 L.Ed.2d 763 (1970) ). Under Strickland , a defendant who claims ineffective assistance of counsel must prove (1) "that counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," 466 U.S. at 687–688, 104 S.Ct. 2052, and (2) that any such deficiency was "prejudicial to the defense," id., at 692, 104 S.Ct. 2052.

"In certain Sixth Amendment contexts," however, "prejudice is presumed." Ibid. For example, no showing of prejudice is necessary "if the accused is denied counsel at a critical stage of his trial," United States v. Cronic , 466 U.S. 648, 659, 104 S.Ct. 2039, 80 L.Ed.2d 657 (1984), or left "entirely without the assistance of counsel on appeal," Penson v. Ohio , 488 U.S. 75, 88, 109 S.Ct. 346, 102 L.Ed.2d 300 (1988). Similarly, prejudice is presumed "if counsel entirely fails to subject the prosecution’s case to meaningful adversarial testing." Cronic , 466 U.S. at 659, 104 S.Ct. 2039. And, most relevant here, prejudice is presumed "when counsel’s constitutionally deficient performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he otherwise would have taken." Flores-Ortega , 528 U.S. at 484, 120 S.Ct. 1029. We hold today that this final presumption applies even when the defendant has signed an appeal waiver.


It is helpful, in analyzing Garza’s case, to first address two procedural devices on which the case hinges: appeal waivers and notices of appeal.


We begin with the term "appeal waivers." While the term is useful shorthand for clauses like those in Garza’s plea agreements, it can misleadingly suggest a monolithic end to all appellate rights.4 In fact, however, no appeal waiver serves as an absolute bar to all appellate claims.

As courts widely agree, "[a] valid and enforceable appeal waiver ... only precludes challenges that fall within its scope." United States v. Hardman , 778 F.3d 896, 899 (CA11 2014) ; see also ibid., n. 2 (collecting cases from the 11 other Federal Courts of Appeals with criminal jurisdiction); State v. Patton , 287 Kan. 200, 228–229, 195 P.3d 753, 771 (2008). That an appeal waiver does not bar claims outside its scope follows from the fact that, "[a]lthough the analogy may not hold in all respects, plea bargains are essentially contracts." Puckett v. United States , 556 U.S. 129, 137, 129 S.Ct. 1423, 173 L.Ed.2d 266 (2009).

As with any type of contract, the language of appeal waivers can vary widely, with some waiver clauses leaving many types of claims unwaived.5 Additionally,

139 S.Ct. 745

even a waived appellate claim can still go forward if the prosecution forfeits or waives the waiver. E.g., United States v. Story , 439 F.3d 226, 231 (CA5 2006). Accordingly, a defendant who has signed an appeal waiver does not, in directing counsel to file a notice of appeal, necessarily undertake a quixotic or frivolous quest.

Separately, all jurisdictions appear to treat at least some claims as unwaiveable. Most fundamentally, courts agree that defendants retain the right to challenge whether the waiver itself is valid and enforceable—for example, on the grounds that it was unknowing or involuntary.6 Consequently, while signing an appeal waiver means giving up some, many, or even most appellate claims, some claims nevertheless remain.


It is also important to consider what it means—and does not mean—for trial counsel to file a notice of appeal.

"Filing such a notice is a purely ministerial task that imposes no great burden on counsel." Flores-Ortega , 528 U.S. at 474, 120 S.Ct. 1029. It typically takes place during a compressed window: 42 days in Idaho, for example, and just 14 days in federal court. See Idaho Rule App. Proc. 14(a) (2017); Fed. Rule App. Proc. 4(b)(1)(A). By the time this window has closed, the defendant likely will not yet have important documents from the trial court, such as transcripts of key proceedings, see, e.g., Idaho Rules App. Proc. 19 and 25; Fed. Rule App. Proc. 10(b), and may well be in custody, making communication with counsel difficult, see Peguero v. United States , 526 U.S. 23, 26, 119 S.Ct. 961, 143 L.Ed.2d 18 (1999). And because some defendants receive new counsel for their appeals, the lawyer responsible for deciding which appellate claims to raise may not yet even be involved in the case.

Filing requirements reflect that claims are, accordingly, likely to be ill defined or unknown at this stage. In the federal system, for example, a notice of appeal need only identify who is appealing; what "judgment, order, or part thereof" is being appealed; and "the court to which the appeal is taken." Fed. Rule App. Proc. 3(c)(1). Generally speaking, state requirements are similarly nonsubstantive.7

139 S.Ct. 746

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