US Supreme Court sides with inmate on appeals case, overturning Idaho court’s ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed an Idaho Supreme Court decision, siding with an Idaho inmate who claimed his public defender was ineffective when he sought an appeal.

The broad ruling has nationwide implications, giving more clarity on the standard for waiving certain rights in court.

In 2015, Gilberto Garza signed two plea agreements that waived his right to appeal on charges of aggravated assault, grand theft and possession of a controlled substance. Shortly after sentencing, Garza informed his court-appointed public defender that he wished to appeal anyway. The attorney declined, citing those plea agreements, and ignored repeated phone calls and letters from Garza asking to file the appeal.

In 2017, the Idaho Supreme Court rejected Garza’s claim that his trial attorney was ineffective. The state justices said it was unclear at the time what the standard for ineffective counsel was once a defendant knowingly signed a plea agreement that waived certain rights.

Wednesday’s 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court ruling reverses that decision, with the majority saying language in plea agreements varies, and the possibility exists for waivers of appeal forfeitures.

Garza remains in prison in Boise, and is eligible for parole in 2023. (Idaho Reports, Idaho Statesman)

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