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Burt v. Titlow

Case Name
Burt v. Titlow
571 U.S. 12
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Samuel Alito
Judge(s) - Majority
Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan
Judge(s) - Concur
Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
6th Circuit
Decision Year
Sentencing Differential (Maximum Exposure)
Sentencing Differential (Minimum Offered or Received)
7-15 years
Sentencing Differential Size


Defendant reached an agreement with the State to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for testifying against his codefendant. The state court approved his plea deal. Three days before his codefendant’s trial was to begin, Defendant retained new counsel and sought a lower sentence in exchange for his testimony. The State refused, and Defendant withdrew his plea, acknowledging the consequences of this action. This reinstated his original first-degree murder charge. Defendant went to trial and was found guilty of second-degree murder, receiving a sentence of 20 to 40 years. On direct appeal, Defendant argued that his counsel had not adequately prepared for trial and was, therefore, ineffective. The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed and found that Defendant’s counsel had acted reasonably. Defendant then filed a federal habeas petition. Applying the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s deferential standard of review, the federal district court found the state court’s decision reasonable and denied relief. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding Defendant’s counsel had been ineffective. The Supreme Court reversed, stating that federal courts reviewing state court decisions on ineffective assistance of counsel claims must use a “doubly deferential” standard of review that gives both the state court and the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt.

Key Quote

“When a state prisoner asks a federal court to set aside a sentence due to ineffective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining, our cases require that the federal court use a ‘”doubly deferential”‘ standard of review that gives both the state court and the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt.” p.15