BURT v. TITLOW
In August 2000, Vonlee Nicole Titlow helped his aunt Billie Rogers murder his wealthy uncle Donald Rogers. After Titlow was charged with first-degree murder, the prosecution offered him a plea bargain. In exchange for testifying against Billie Rogers, Titlow could plead guilty to manslaughter and receive a reduced sentence. After consulting with his attorney, Titlow accepted the deal. However, before sentencing, Titlow spoke to a sheriff’s deputy who suggested that he withdraw his guilty plea and consult another attorney. Titlow followed the deputy’s advice, hired a new attorney and withdrew his guilty plea.
Following his trial, a jury convicted Titlow of second-degree murder and sentenced him to 20-to-40 years in prison. This led Titlow to accuse his second attorney of ineffective assistance of counsel for allowing him to withdraw the original guilty plea. Both the trial court and the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Titlow’s claim. Titlow petitioned the Michigan Supreme Court to hear his case, but they refused to do so.
Titlow then petitioned for federal habeas corpus relief, but the district court denied his claim as well. The district court held that Titlow failed to meet the standard for overturning a state-court conviction under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered the state to reoffer Titlow’s original plea agreement. The appellate court held that Titlow’s second attorney was ineffective for failing to investigate his claims further, failing to obtain documents from the first attorney, and failing to convince Titlow to take the plea bargain.
1. Did the Sixth Circuit give appropriate deference to the Michigan trial court under the AEDPA?
2. Can a defendant establish prejudice in an ineffective assistance claim by presenting subjective testimony that he would have accepted the plea offer absent the attorney’s deficient advice?
3. Does the Court’s decision in Lafler v. Cooper require a state trial court to resentence a defendant when he claims that ineffective assistance of counsel led him to reject a plea offer?