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Premo v. Moore

Case Name
Premo v. Moore
562 U.S. 115
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Anthony Kennedy
Judge(s) - Majority
John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor
Judge(s) - Concur
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
9th Circuit
Decision Year
Sentencing Differential (Maximum Exposure)
Sentencing Differential (Minimum Offered or Received)
25 years
Sentencing Differential Size


Defendant pled no contest to felony murder on advice of counsel in exchange for the minimum sentence, 25 years. After the state court denied his postconviction relief, Defendant renewed his claim, filing a petition for habeas corpus in federal court. Defendant argued that his attorney’s failure to file a motion to suppress for his confession to police constituted ineffective assistance of counsel because the confession was obtained unconstitutionally. The District Court denied his petition, stating the suppression would not have made a difference. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the state court decision denying the postconviction relief was an unreasonable application of the Strickland rule regarding ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, holding that the state court’s finding that any “motion to suppress would have been fruitless” was not an unreasonable application of clearly established law under Strickland. The Court restated the Strickland rule, holding that to establish ineffective assistance of counsel, “a defendant must show both deficient performance by counsel and prejudice.” Here, counsel for defendant stated that suppression would serve little purpose in light of another confession by defendant and the fact that both his brother and accomplice’s girlfriend could testify. The Court held that the state court was not unreasonable to accept this explanation. The Court held that when reviewing a habeas claim based on choices made by counsel at the plea bargaining stage, strict adherence to the Strickland standard is essential for two reasons: (1) the potential for distortion and imbalance in a hindsight perspective is high, and the record at the pretrial stage is scarce compared to post-trial; (2) ineffective assistance claims that lack the necessary basis can bring instability to the plea bargaining process. The possibility that a plea can be undone after a court second-guesses counsel’s decisions can lead prosecutors to be less likely to engage in plea bargaining as a whole. Because the state court was not unreasonable in its application of the law, Defendant was not entitled to post-conviction relief.

Key Quote

“Acknowledging guilt and accepting responsibility by an early plea respond to certain basic premises in the law and its function. Those principles are eroded if a guilty plea is too easily set aside based on facts and circumstances not apparent to a competent attorney when actions and advice leading to the plea took place. Plea bargains are the result of complex negotiations suffused with uncertainty, and defense attorneys must make careful strategic choices in balancing opportunities and risks.” p.124