IAC during plea bargaining: Maybe some other time

Intriguing news out of SCOTUS today. The IAC during plea bargaining case, Arave v. Hoffman, reported with much fanfare here, may not go forward after all. Per Scotusblog (via SL&P), attorneys for both sides have asked the Justices to vacate the Ninth Circuit opinion and dismiss the case as moot. Defendant’s motion is here [pdf] and the State’s response is here [pdf]. It really is curious. It seems that the defendant wants the relief imposed by the federal habeas court: vacate the death sentence and impose life.

Hoffman was convicted of first degree murder in 1993 and sentenced to death in an Idaho court. Almost a decade later, a federal habeas court vacated the death sentence for ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase of the trial. The habeas court rejected a separate ineffective assistance claim relating to pre-trial negotiations, when Hoffman’s attorney advised him not to accept the state’s offer of a life sentence on the mistaken theory that Idaho’s death penalty scheme would later be found unconstitutional. A Ninth Circuit panel reversed on the pre-trial claim in mid-2006, requiring the state to release Hoffman unless officials offered him the original plea bargain. Idaho appealed, and the Court granted certiorari on November 5.

In the motion to vacate and dismiss, Hoffman’s lawyers say the inmate wished to withdraw the pre-trial ineffective assistance claim in order to proceed with the resentencing originally ordered by the federal habeas court for the penalty phase ineffective assistance claim. According to the motion, a status conference is set for December 13 before an Idaho state judge. Joan Fisher of the Federal Public Defender’s office in Idaho wrote that Hoffman made his decision “[a]fter extensive consultations with counsel,” and that his “trial and habeas counsel fully concur with his decision.”

I wonder what made him decide to do this. It’s not like the State was arguing that the death penalty should be re-imposed. Anyone have any ideas?

It’s disappointing that this may not be heard. The issue was truly interesting and I would have liked to see what today’s justices had to say about it.

2 thoughts on “IAC during plea bargaining: Maybe some other time

  1. SPO

    The folks at Crime and Consequences think that a major loss was staring the defense bar in the face and that may have gotten Hoffman’s lawyer to roll.


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