November 5, 2013 United States Supeme Court opinion

Burt v Titlow

Titlow withdrew from a plea deal and was later convicted of murder. The Michigan Court of Appeals found her second attorney was not ineffective given Titlow’s protestations of innocence as a sheriff’s deputy’s belief she did nto commit a crime. Titlow sought habeas relief which the district court denied. The 6th Circuit reversed holding counsel was ineffective and ordering the plea deal to be reoffered. The Court, with one justice concurring in judgment, reversed. The majority held the Michigan state court decision was reasonable as Titlow proclaimed innocence, passed a polygraph exam and fired her plea attorney days before she was scheduled to self-incriminate in open court. There being no alternative theory as to why she did this, the state court reasonably concluded the second attorney reasonably believed Titlow was innocent. The majority held that the fact that the second attorney cited the length of sentence as the reason to withdraw the plea doses not undermine the conclusion as there is no inconsistency between belief in innocence and a desire to avoid a long sentence. The majority also held that the 6th Circuit erred by allowing a silent record to satisfy Titlow’s burden as silence cannot prove ineffective assistance. Justice Sotomayor added concurrence stating her views that the majority opinion is narrow, that advice given in case must reflect client objectives and the facts of this case failed to prove ineffective assistance but a better record of the second attorney’s actions may have led to a different outcome. Justice Ginsberg concurred in judgment arguing that by refusing to testify, Titlow voided the pea deal and there was nothing to renew.

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