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Burger v. Kemp

Case Name
Burger v. Kemp
483 U.S. 776
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
John Paul Stevens
Judge(s) - Majority
John Paul Stevens, William Renquist, Byron White, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia
Judge(s) - Dissent
Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis Powell
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
11th Circuit
Decision Year


Defendant and his co-defendant were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Defendant appealed, arguing that he had ineffective assistance of counsel at both his murder and sentencing trial. The Defendant asserted that his murder trial counsel was ineffective because of a conflict of interest. The co-defendant’s counsel was the Defendant counsel’s partner. The Defendant believed that this conflict of interest resulted in his counsel’s failure to negotiate a plea deal for a life sentence. The Court concluded, however, that the record lacked any evidence to support the notion that the prosecutor would have even been receptive to any type of plea deal, given the extensive evidence against the Defendant, including the Defendant’s own confession. The evidence in the record instead showed that the Defendant’s counsel had attempted many times to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor, but the prosecutor refused. The Court went on to reject the Defendant’s other ineffective assistance of counsel arguments, holding that he had not established that his counsel’s acts or omissions were outside the “the wide range of professionally competent assistance” or that his sentence was unreliable because of a “breakdown in the adversary process caused by the deficiencies in counsel’s assistance.”

Key Quote

“[T]he asserted actual conflict of interest, even if it had been established, did not harm his lawyer’s advocacy. . . . The notion that the prosecutor would have been receptive to a plea bargain is completely unsupported in the record. . . . [Trial counsel] ‘constantly attempted to plea bargain with the prosecutor,’ but was rebuffed.” p.785-786