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U.S. Supreme Court

Bad Advice a Matter of Degree in Death Penalty Case

Posted Nov 6, 2007 11:25 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The state of Idaho is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to require a death-row inmate to show gross negligence by his lawyer in order to get his conviction overturned because of bad plea bargain advice.

The state claims a high standard is needed to prevent courts from relying on “impermissible hindsight” in evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, the New York Times reports.

The U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case yesterday and agreed to consider the ineffective assistance standard outlined in a 1984 case, Strickland v. Washington. Idaho inmate Maxwell Hoffman maintains that standard was satisfied when his lawyer wrongly advised him to turn down a plea deal that would have spared him the death penalty for the murder of a police informant.

The lawyer based his plea bargain advice on a decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidating an Arizona death penalty law that was indistinguishable from Idaho’s law. However the lawyer was unaware that the Arizona Supreme Court had differed with the 9th Circuit in a different case; Arizona’s view was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case accepted yesterday is Arave v. Hoffman.

Updated 12:40 p.m. CST to CORRECT name of Strickland v. Washington.

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