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Court declines to hear case on whether defense attorneys are obligated to seek favorable plea deals

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Over a dissent from two of the court’s liberal justices, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal asking them to decide whether a criminal-defense attorney is required to initiate negotiations with prosecutors when his client is likely to get a better result from a plea deal. The denial of review on Tuesday in the case of Quartavious Davis, who was a teenager when he was convicted for his role in a string of armed robberies in south Florida in 2010, came as part of a list of orders from the justices’ private conference last week.

Davis’s co-defendants entered guilty pleas and received substantially lighter sentences, but Davis went to trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to more than 160 years in prison. In post-conviction proceedings, Davis argued unsuccessfully that his trial attorney’s failure to seek a plea deal violated his constitutional right to competent assistance from a lawyer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that because Davis had not alleged that prosecutors had offered a plea deal, he could not show that he had been harmed by his attorney’s failure to seek such a deal – a key component of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim.

Davis then came to the Supreme Court, which on Tuesday rejected his plea to weigh in. In a three-page dissent from the denial of review, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson – joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor – noted that the courts of appeals had reached different conclusions on the question at the heart of Davis’s case. Moreover, Jackson added, this would have been an ideal case for the justices to consider that question, because “it was exceedingly likely that Davis would have prevailed” if he had not been required to show that prosecutors had offered a plea deal.

The justices did not act on several high-profile cases that they considered last week, including the case of Steven Donziger, a human rights lawyer who played a key role in winning an $8.6 billion judgment against Chevron for polluting the Amazon rainforest. Chevron accused Donziger of bribery and fraud, and he is now challenging a federal district court’s appointment of three private attorneys as special prosecutors after the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to pursue criminal contempt charges against him.

The justices also took no action on a petition for review filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has asked the justices to overrule a decision by the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit holding that the agency’s funding mechanism violates the Constitution – and, as a result, a rule issued by the CFPB is invalid. The CFPB says that allowing the lower court’s decision to stand could raise “grave concerns” for “the entire financial industry.”

The justices’ next conference is Friday, Feb. 24; the court is expected to release orders from that conference on Monday, Feb. 27, at 9:30 a.m.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Court declines to hear case on whether defense attorneys are obligated to seek favorable plea deals, SCOTUSblog (Feb. 21, 2023, 5:22 PM),