JONES V. BARNES, 463 U. S. 745 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745 (1983)

Jones v. Barnes

No. 81-1794

Argued February 22, 1983

Decided July 5, 1983

463 U.S. 745


After respondent was convicted of robbery and assault in a jury trial in a New York state court, counsel was appointed to represent him on appeal. Respondent informed counsel of several claims that he felt should be raised, but counsel rejected most of the suggested claims, stating that they would not aid respondent in obtaining a new trial and that they could not be raised on appeal because they were not based on evidence in the record. Counsel then listed seven potential claims of error that he was considering including in his brief, and invited respondent's "reflections and suggestions" with regard to those claims. Counsel's brief to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court concentrated on three of the claims, two of which had been originally suggested by respondent. In addition, respondent's own pro se briefs were filed. At oral argument, counsel argued the points presented in his own brief, but not the arguments raised in the pro se briefs. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction. After respondent was unsuccessful in earlier collateral proceedings attacking his conviction, he filed this action in Federal District Court, seeking habeas corpus relief on the basis that his appellate counsel had provided ineffective assistance. The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that, under Anders v. California, 386 U. S. 738 -- which held that an appointed attorney must advocate his client's cause vigorously and may not withdraw from a nonfrivolous appeal -- appointed counsel must present on appeal all nonfrivolous arguments requested by his client. The Court of Appeals held that respondent's counsel had not met this standard, in that he failed to present certain nonfrivolous claims.

Held: Defense counsel assigned to prosecute an appeal from a criminal conviction does not have a constitutional duty to raise every nonfrivolous issue requested by the defendant. The accused has the ultimate authority to make certain fundamental decisions regarding his case, including the decision whether to take an appeal; and, with some limitations, he may elect to act as his own advocate. However, an indigent defendant has no constitutional right to compel appointed counsel to press nonfrivolous points requested by the client, if counsel, as a matter of professional judgment, decides not to present those points. By promulgating

Page 463 U. S. 746

a per se rule that the client must be allowed to decide what issues are to be pressed, the Court of Appeals seriously undermined the ability of counsel to present the client's case in accord with counsel's professional evaluation. Experienced advocates have emphasized the importance of winnowing out weaker arguments on appeal and focusing on one central issue if possible, or at most on a few key issues. Selecting the most promising issues for review has assumed a greater importance in an era when the time for oral argument is strictly limited in most courts and when page limits on briefs are widely imposed. The decision in Anders, far from giving support to the Court of Appeals' rule, is to the contrary; Anders recognized that the advocate's role "requires that he support his client's appeal to the best of his ability." 386 U.S. at 386 U. S. 744. The appointed counsel in this case did just that. Pp. 463 U. S. 750-754.

665 F.2d 427, reversed.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 463 U. S. 754. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 463 U. S. 755.

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