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Objection over thief’s lawyer meets end of the road, spurring Jackson dissent

The Supreme Court turned down an appeal Tuesday from a Florida man whose co-defendants on robbery charges negotiated 40-year plea deals whereas he was sentenced to over a century and a half of prison time.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson balked Tuesday at the refusal from her colleagues on the high court to consider ineffective counsel claims from a man sentenced to just under 160 years in prison for a string of armed robberies.

“The instant case not only implicates a divergence of circuit opinions, but also is an ideal vehicle to evaluate the Eleventh Circuit’s bright-line rule that an adequate showing of prejudice requires an actual plea offer,” Justice Jackson wrote in a 3-page dissent joined by fellow liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Quartavious Davis was given the life sentence after a jury convicted him in connection to a string of seven armed robberies from 2010 in South Florida that targeted businesses including a Little Caesar's pizza shop, a Walgreens drug store, an Amerika gas station and a Wendy's. During the two-month span that the robberies occurred, Davis turned 19 years old.

While his co-defendants negotiated plea deals that carried less than 40 years of imprisonment, Davis, a first-time, was subjected to six mandatory consecutive terms of 25 years’ imprisonment and one mandatory consecutive term of five years for the 16 counts of which he was convicted.

The court initially gave Davis a sentence of more than 161 years but it was reduced to just over 159 years after an en banc panel of the 11th Circuit found a sentencing enhancement error.

In his petition to the Supreme Court last year, Davis noted that his trial counsel failed to discuss with him the pros and cons of going to trial versus pleading guilty. One thing that he says was never discussed was the likelihood that Davis would “receive a life sentence based on the mandatory stacking of his penalties.” He also says they never discussed how the fact that his co-defendants were already cooperating with the government would hurt his chances at being found not guilty — “particularly when considered alongside powerful cellphone location data evidence placing Davis near the robbery sites.”

The government noted meanwhile that Davis had failed to meet the test to prove ineffective assistance, and that his conduct in at least six of the seven robberies was particularly dangerous. 

“In each of the armed robberies, petitioner and one or two of his co-conspirators entered a store or restaurant while employees — and sometimes customers — were present, and then used weapons and threats to obtain money or other valuables,” the response brief states.

“During one robbery, of a beauty salon, petitioner temporarily split off from his two co-conspirators in order to rob a martial arts studio next door that was ‘filled with children,’” the government’s brief continues. “In the studio, petitioner ‘pointed his gun at a man and forced him to the floor,’ stole a camera and multiple cell phones, and knocked over a 77-year old woman while another adult hid the children in a back room. Petitioner then rejoined his two co-conspirators in the beauty salon, where they held one of the employees at gunpoint, stole money from the cash register and purses, and ‘fled while the children from the Tae Kwan Do studio screamed.’”

Concerned about a circuit split on the matter, Jackson argued in her dissent Tuesday that the high court missed an opportunity to weigh in on the fact that the government never extended Davis a plea deal affects his effective counsel claim.

“That important legal question is isolated here; since the Eleventh Circuit assumed deficient performance, so can we. And because the lower courts denied Davis’s motion without an evidentiary hearing based solely on the pleading deficiency, the sole question before us is whether a defendant must allege (and then ultimately show) that an actual plea offer was made,” Jackson’s dissent notes. 

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For an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a defendant must show that their attorney had both a deficient performance and displayed prejudice. In Davis’ case, the district court deemed the ineffective counsel allegations insufficient because Davis had not alleged “that a plea offer was made but not communicated to [him]” — a stance the 11th Circuit affirmed.

Jackson meanwhile said “it was exceedingly likely that Davis would have prevailed with respect to the prejudice prong if the Eleventh Circuit Cite had not applied that threshold requirement.” 

“The District Court’s statements at sentencing were also noteworthy: The judge specifically asserted that, while he thought the appropriate sentence for Davis was 40 years, he was bound by the consecutive mandatory minimums,” she added. “The Eleventh Circuit gave short shrift to these alleged facts, and others, which suggest that Davis was harmed by his counsel’s failure to initiate plea negotiations because it applied a bright-line rule that prejudice cannot be shown in the absence of a plea offer.”

Miami-based attorney Jacqueline Shapiro for Davis did not return a request comment Tuesday, nor did representatives of the Department of Justice. 

Notably, Davis made an unsuccessful previous appeal over the government's lack of a warrant before it induced a service provider to divulge his cell-tower tracking records, tied to a phone he had registered under the alias “Lil Wayne.”

In addition to presenting eyewitness testimony and surveillance footage at Davis' robbery trial, the government introduced telephone records obtained from MetroPCS for the time period spanning the first and last of the robberies, tying Davis to the vicinity of the robberies when the crimes occurred. Davis had asserted that the record production constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment and thus required a warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union and many other civil liberties groups filed amicus briefs in support of a warrant requirement. 

When it affirmed judgment for the government, the 11th Circuit noted that "Davis makes no trespass claim, nor could he," and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Davis' case was among dozens denied writs of certiorari Tuesday in the high court's order list. No cases were taken up.

One case that was denied came from the Wikimedia Foundation, challenging the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international Internet communications, including private emails, messages and other data through the surveillance program known as Upstream. The Fourth Circuit had ruled against the owner of Wikipedia and its attorneys at the ACLU on the basis of the state secrets privilege, meaning that litigation of the case could result in harm to national security.

No member of the high court offered any comment on the Wikimedia case or any other matter rejected Tuesday.

In another notable denial, the justices declined to review First Amendment claims from Anthony Novak, who was arrested and prosecuted for creating a parody page on Facebook about his local police department in Parma, Ohio. Novak was backed by satirical publisher The Onion, but police were found to have qualified immunity.

The Supreme Court also declined Tuesday to take up a challenge to an Arkansas state law that requires a pledge from state contractors saying they will not boycott Israel. Ahead of advertisement contracting with the state-run University of Arkansas, an alt-weekly newspaper called the Arkansas Times said it would not sign the pledge because it did not want to take a political position on the Israel-Palestine dispute. The pledge must be taken for contracts worth $1,000 or more, per the 2017 state law.

In an en banc ruling last year, the Eighth Circuit upheld Arkansas’ law, finding it does not run afoul of the First Amendment as it only bars commercial conduct, not expressive conduct like criticizing Israel.

Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Ethicon failed to get a Supreme Court audience on Tuesday as well in their challenge against nearly $344 million in civil penalties over their marketing and medical device instructions that minimized the health risks of its surgically implantable transvaginal pelvic mesh products.

The justices also declined review in a case from Tyson Foods over Covid-19 worker death cases.

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Criminal, Law

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