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Petitions of the week

Capital defendant whose lawyer conceded guilt despite his objection seeks relief from Supreme Court

This week we highlight cert petitions that ask the Supreme Court to consider, among other things, a capital defendant’s request for habeas relief on the ground that his lawyer conceded guilt over his objection, as in 2018’s McCoy v. Louisiana.

Though the inmate in the 2018 case, Robert McCoy, had insisted that he was innocent, his lawyer considered the evidence against McCoy “overwhelming” and counseled that the best strategy to avoid the death penalty was to concede guilt. After the lawyer’s concession of guilt to the jury, over McCoy’s objection, the jury nonetheless sentenced McCoy to death. In overturning the death sentence, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to choose the objective of his defense and to insist that his counsel refrain from admitting guilt.

In Tyler v. Vannoy, James Tyler maintains that his lawyer also conceded Tyler’s guilt over his objection in his August 1996 trial and sentencing. The trial transcript includes Tyler’s statement to the court: “I wanted to put on the record that my attorneys are using the defense that I don’t agree with. … And I understand they may be trying to get me a life sentence, but if I would have wanted a life sentence, I would have pleaded guilty and got a for-sure life sentence. I pleaded not guilty.” After his conviction and death sentence, Tyler later sought post-conviction relief – all before the McCoy decision – repeating without success his argument that his lawyer’s concession had violated his Sixth Amendment rights.

After McCoy, Tyler unsuccessfully sought relief in Louisiana state courts. The state trial court ruled that McCoy did not fit within the Supreme Court’s exceptions under Teague v. Lane for making new rules of criminal procedure retroactive to defendants, like Tyler, whose convictions are already final.

In his petition, Tyler makes three main arguments. First, he tries to avoid the issue of retroactivity by maintaining that McCoy did not truly announce a “new” rule, but recognized a “long held personal right afforded to capital defendants,” “dictated by longstanding principles.” Second, Tyler argues that even if McCoy announced a new rule, Teague allows for the retroactive effect of substantive rules of constitutional law that prohibit certain criminal laws or punishments (as opposed to procedural rules, which are not retroactive). Tyler suggests McCoy is substantive because it “carved out a category of defendants for whom punishment is unconstitutional,” “defendants who were subjected to punishment after their lawyers refused to defend in spite of the defendant’s objections.” Third, Tyler argues that his conviction is not truly “final” because he did not have the opportunity to make his Sixth Amendment argument before the Louisiana Supreme Court in his direct appeal. Instead, Tyler seeks to bring his claim under Griffith v. Kentucky, which allows for retroactive effect of new rules in cases that are not final.

This case and other petitions of the week are below:

Jennings v. Gulfshore Private Home Care, LLC
Issues: (1) Whether a district court has the power to sua sponte vacate a final judgment without notice to the parties, an issue that has divided the circuits, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 6th and 10th Circuits saying “no” and the other circuits considering it saying “yes,” and if there is such power, whether it is a violation of due process to vacate a judgment without notice to any of the parties, such that the vacatur is void; (2) whether, if there is such power, the sua sponte reconsideration should be considered a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) and the notice of appeal should be considered premature and timely, pursuant to the plain language Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(4); and (3) whether the right of appeal is not lost if a mistake is made in designating the judgment appealed from when it is clear that the overriding intent was effectively to appeal, as held by the Supreme Court and every other circuit to consider the question.

Becker v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation
Issues: (1) Whether a federal court may force a non-consenting, non-Indian plaintiff to exhaust his claims in tribal court when the defendant tribe has expressly consented by contract to federal or state court jurisdiction and waived both sovereign immunity and tribal exhaustion; and (2) whether a state court may adjudicate a contractual dispute between a tribe and a non-Indian when the tribe has provided specific contractual consent to state court jurisdiction; or instead, whether the Constitution or laws of the United States prohibit such exercises of state court jurisdiction unless the state has assumed general civil jurisdiction over tribal territory under Sections 1322 and 1326 of Title 25.

Ballance v. United States
Issue: Whether, when reviewing a suppression ruling on appeal, the appellate court should review factual findings for clear error and the ultimate legal determination de novo, as six circuits do, or whether it should also view the evidence in the light most favorable to the district court’s ruling, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit did here and as four other circuits do.

Tyler v. Vannoy
Issues: (1) Whether, when a capital defendant objected to his attorney’s concession of guilt, the explicit text of the Sixth Amendment and longstanding right-to-counsel jurisprudence circumvent the bar under Teague v. Lane and require the application of McCoy v. Louisiana to cases on collateral review; (2) whether McCoy announced a substantive rule that should be applied retroactively to criminal defendants who were subjected to conviction without being afforded their constitutional right to counsel; and (3) whether the Griffith v. Kentucky rather than Teague standard should apply to determine the retroactive application of McCoy, where initial review collateral claims are not final after direct review.

Recommended Citation: Andrew Hamm, Capital defendant whose lawyer conceded guilt despite his objection seeks relief from Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog (Apr. 29, 2022, 2:51 PM),