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Name: Florida v. Nixon
Case #: 03-931
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 12/13/2004
Subsequent History: Cross-cites: 125 S.Ct. 551; 160 L.Ed.2d 565
Summary

An attorney’s concession of guilt without his client’s express consent is not ineffective assistance of counsel per se. In this capital proceeding, defense counsel was faced with overwhelming evidence, an admission of guilt, and an unresponsive defendant who refused to discuss trial strategy despite multiple attempts by counsel to do so. The defendant was disruptive at trial and absented himself from the majority of the proceedings. Counsel opted to concede the defendant’s guilt during the guilt phase and instead concentrate on persuading the jury to spare his life, but at trial he objected to the introduction of inflammatory evidence, cross-examined witnesses, and contested several jury instructions. The Florida Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding that a defense attorney’s concession that his client committed murder, made without the defendant’s express consent, automatically constituted prejudicial ineffective assistance of counsel. The United States Supreme Court unanimously reversed in an opinion by Justice Ginsberg, holding that the concession here was not tantamount to a guilty plea and should instead be evaluated under Strickland v. Washington (1984) 466 U.S. 668 to determine whether counsel’s conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Given the overwhelming evidence and the danger of losing credibility with the jury by mounting a fruitless defense in the guilt phase, counsel’s conduct was not objectively unreasonable.