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Florida v. Nixon - 543 U.S. 175, 125 S. Ct. 551 (2004)

Rule:

Defense counsel undoubtedly has a duty to discuss potential strategies with the defendant. But when a defendant, informed by counsel, neither consents nor objects to the course counsel describes as the most promising means to avert a sentence of death, counsel is not automatically barred from pursuing that course. The reasonableness of counsel's performance, after consultation with the defendant yields no response, must be judged in accord with the inquiry generally applicable to ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims: whether counsel's representation falls below an objective standard of reasonableness.

Facts:

In view of overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt of the brutal murder, including defendant's confession, counsel advised defendant that the best course was to concede guilt at the trial phase and present extensive mitigation evidence of defendant's mental instability during the penalty phase. Upon receiving no response from the uncommunicative defendant, counsel proceeded to concede guilt, and defendant contended that effectively pleading guilty without defendant's consent was presumptively prejudicial.

Issue:

By effectively pleading guilty without defendant’s consent, did defendant receive ineffective assistance of counsel?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court unanimously held that the concession of guilt without explicit consent of defendant was not automatically prejudicial ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant neither consented nor objected to counsel's proposed strategy and counsel acted reasonably in electing the most promising means of averting the death penalty. Further, the concession was not tantamount to a guilty plea since defendant retained his criminal trial and appeal rights, and counsel could not be deemed ineffective for attempting to impress the jury with his candor which could lend credence to counsel's mitigation efforts during the penalty phase.

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