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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear an Important Case on Criminal Defendant’s Rights in Plea Bargain Appeals


Guilty pleas play an increasingly large role in our criminal justice system. In fact, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, 97 percent of federal and 94 percent of state prosecutions today end in plea bargains. As a result, there is an increasing number of appeals from guilty pleas and, consequently, an increasing number of prosecutors who insist on including appeal waivers in their plea agreements. Many experts have expressed concerns that, due to their prevalence, they have essentially taken the place of jury trials and, in doing so, completely shaped what options are available to criminal defendants in all criminal trials.

As we discuss below, at the end of October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear an important case of first impression concerning the inclusion of appeal waivers in plea agreements and to what defendants have to prove regarding defense attorneys who refuse to file appeals due to their presence; a case that will undoubtedly have an effect on criminal defendants’ rights when it comes to appealing plea agreements.

The Case

The case involves a defendant who plead no contest to aggravated assault and guilty to possession of a controlled substance three years ago. Although he signed two plea agreements waiving his right to appeal, he also expressed doubts about actually waiving this right in his Guilty Plea Advisory Form, and was verbally informed by the district judge at his hearing that he had the right to appeal the court’s order to the state Supreme Court.

Shortly after entering these pleas, the defendant informed his attorney that he wished to appeal. His attorney decided not to file the appeal due to the appeal waiver. As a result, the defendant filed for postconviction relief in the district court, claiming that his attorney’s refusal to file the appeal on his behalf constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court disagreed, finding that, in order to prevail; he would have to demonstrate that the attorney’s performance was objectively unreasonable and that he (the defendant) had suffered prejudice as a result. Due to the presence of the appeal waiver, the court decided against him, and the state Supreme Court agreed.

While, in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court found that prejudice is always presumed when an attorney fails to file an appeal (after being directed to do so by their client), that case was different than the current case  because it did not involve an appeal waiver.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney

When it comes to criminal defense and trial results that will dictate the rest of your life, you want to make sure that you select the very best legal representation possible so that you are not stuck battling both for your life and against your own attorney.

If you have been charged with a crime here in North Carolina, contact criminal defense attorney Rashad Hauter at the office of Hauter Law Firm, PC. Our defense attorneys have the skills and experience necessary to ensure that you never enter into any agreement that does not serve your best interests.


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