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Burt v. Titlow

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: November 5, 2013
Case #: 12-414
Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J,. filed a concurring opinion. Ginsburg, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-414_5h26.pdf

Constitutional Law: "The Sixth Circuit failed to apply the "double differential" standard of review recognized by the Court's case law when it refused to credit the state court's reasonable factual finding and assumed that counsel was ineffective where the record was silent."

Respondent was charged with murder. Respondent’s attorney negotiated a plea agreement which Respondent accepted. Subsequently, Respondent discharged her attorney and hired a new attorney for the purpose of rejecting the plea agreement and going to trial. Respondent was convicted of murder.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed relying on Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), which held that the defendant must “show that counsel’s performance was deficient” and that “the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Additionally, the court relied on Lafler v. Cooper, 132 S. Ct. 1376 (2012) which extended the Sixth Amendment’s right to effective assistance of counsel to the plea bargaining process, and concluded that Respondent’s second attorney had failed to fulfill his “clear obligation" to provide sufficient advice during the plea-negotiation stage.

The Supreme Court stated that in order for a federal habeas petitioner to get a state court's decision overturned the prisoner bears the burden of proving the states finding was "unreasonable." The Court then reversed and held that the Sixth Circuit failed to apply the “doubly deferential” standard of review when it refused to credit the state court’s reasonable factual finding and assumed that counsel was ineffective where the record was silent. The Court found that there was no factual or legal justification for overturning the state court’s decision, despite the fact that Respondent's counsel's conduct was "far from exemplary." The  Sixth Amendment does not guarantee the right to perfect counsel; it promises only the right to effective assistance, and the record showed that Respondent's counsel's behavior was not per se ineffective.