|HALBERT V. MICHIGAN (03-10198) 545 U.S. 605 (2005)
Vacated and remanded.
[ Ginsburg ]
[ Thomas ]
ANTONIO DWAYNE HALBERT, PETITIONER v.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN
[June 23, 2005]
Justice Thomas, with whom Justice Scalia joins, and with whom The Chief Justice joins as to all but Part IIIB3, dissenting.
Petitioner Antonio Halbert pleaded no contest to charges that he sexually assaulted his stepdaughter and another young girl. Michigan law did not provide Halbertas a defendant convicted by a plea of guilty or no contestan appointed attorney to help him prepare an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Court holds Michigans law unconstitutional as applied to Halbert. It fails, however, to ground its analysis in any particular provision of the Constitution or in this Courts precedents. It also ignores that, even if there is a right to counsel in the circumstances at issue, the right is waivable and was validly waived here. I respectfully dissent.
To understand why the Courts holding is an unwarranted extension of our precedents, it is necessary first to understand the limits that Michigan places on the provision of court-appointed counsel for defendants who plead guilty or no contest. Before 1994, Michigan afforded all criminal defendants the right to appeal their convictions to the Michigan Court of Appeals. By the early 1990s, however, the Michigan Court of Appeals had a backlog of thousands of cases awaiting decision, nearly a third of which were appeals by defendants who had pleaded guilty or no contest. People v. Bulger, 462 Mich. 495, 504, 614 N. W. 2d 103, 107 (2000). To reduce this backlog, Michigan voters amended the Michigan Constitution in 1994 to provide that [i]n every criminal prosecution, the accused shall have an appeal as a matter of right, except [that] an appeal by an accused who pleads guilty or nolo contendere shall be by leave of the court. Mich. Const., Art. 1, §20; Bulger, supra, at 504, 614 N. W. 2d, at 107. This constitutional amendment created a two-track system for Michigan defendants: The Michigan Court of Appeals must hear the appeals of those who dispute their guilt, while it may elect to hear the appeals of those who concede or do not contest their guilt of the substantive crime.
In 1999, the Michigan Legislature enacted the statute at issue here. It provides that, in general, a defendant who pleads guilty, guilty but mentally ill, or nolo contendere shall not have appellate counsel appointed for review of the defendants conviction or sentence. Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §770.3a(1) (West 2000). Defendants who plead guilty or no contest do not, however, invariably lose the right to counsel on appeal; the statute contains exceptions to the general rule. The trial court must appoint appellate counsel for plea-convicted defendants if the State seeks leave to appeal, the defendants sentence exceeds the upper limit of the applicable minimum guidelines range, or the defendant seeks leave to appeal a conditional plea. §770.3a(2). Further, the trial court may appoint appellate counsel for plea-convicted defendants who seek leave to appeal certain sentencing errors. §770.3a(3). Finally, if the Court of Appeals grants leave to appeal, the case proceeds as an appeal of right, Mich. Ct. Rule 7.205(D)(3) (2005), and the plea-convicted defendant is entitled to appointed counsel, Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §770.3a(2)(c). Thus, plea-convicted defendants lack appellate counsel only in certain types of cases, and only then when they are seeking leave to appeal.
The majority nevertheless holds that Michigans system is constitutionally inadequate. It finds that all plea-convicted indigent defendants have the right to appellate counsel when seeking leave to appeal. The majority does not say where in the Constitution that right is locatedthe Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, or some purported confluence of the two. Ante, at 23. Nor does the majority attempt to anchor its holding in the history of those Clauses. M. L. B. v. S. L. J., 519 U.S. 102, 131, 133, 138 (1996) (Thomas, J., dissenting). Nor does the majority even attempt to ground its holding in the entirety of this Courts jurisprudence, which does not require paid appellate assistance for indigent criminal defendants. Id., at 131138. The majority ignores the bulk of that jurisprudence and leaves those arguments unanswered.
Instead, the majority pins its hopes on a single case: Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963). Douglas, however, does not support extending the right to counsel to any form of discretionary review, as Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600 (1974), and later cases make clear. Moreover, Michigan has not engaged in the sort of invidious discrimination against indigent defendants that Douglas condemns. Michigan has done no more than recognize the undeniable difference between defendants who plead guilty and those who maintain their innocence, in an attempt to divert resources from largely frivolous appeals to more meritorious ones. The majority substitutes its own policy preference for that of Michigan voters, and it does so based on an untenable reading of Douglas.
In Douglas, California granted an initial appeal as of right to all convicted criminal defendants. 372 U.S., at 356. However, the California District Court of Appeal appointed counsel for indigent defendants only after determining whether counsel would be useful to the defendant or the court. Ibid. Thus the California appellate court was forced to prejudge the merits of indigent defendants appeals, while it judged the merits of other defendants appeals only after briefing and oral argument. Ibid.
In previous cases, this Court had considered state-imposed conditions like transcript and filing fees that prevented indigent criminal defendants from obtaining any appellate review. Ross, supra, at 606607 (discussing Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (1956), and its progeny). By contrast, in Douglas, California provided appellate review to all criminal defendants, but it did not provide a state subsidy for indigent defendants whose claims appeared unlikely to benefit from counsels assistance. This Court nevertheless held that when States provide a first appeal as of right, they must supply indigent defendants with counsel. Ross, supra, at 607. In Ross, however, this Court declined to extend Douglas right to counsel beyond initial appeals as of right. States need not appoint counsel for indigent defendants who seek discretionary review in a States highest court or this Court. Ross, supra, at 616618.
Michigans system bears some
similarity to the state systems at issue in both Douglas
and Ross. Like the defendant in Douglas, Halbert
requests appointed counsel for an initial appeal before an
intermediate appellate court. But like the defendant in
Ross, Halbert requests appointed counsel for an appeal
that is discretionary, not as of right. Crucially, however,
Douglas noted that its decision extended only to initial
appeals as of rightand later cases have repeatedly
reaffirmed that understanding.1 This Court has never required States to
appoint counsel for discretionary review. Ross,
supra, at 610; Murray v. Giarratano, 492 U.S. 1, 1011
(1989); see also Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 555
(1987). And an appeal permitted only by leave of the
court, Mich. Const., Art. 1, §20, is
discretionaryas the Michigan Supreme Court has
recognized, Bulger, 462 Mich., at 519, 614
N. W. 2d, at 113; id., at 542542, 614 N. W. 2d, at 125 (Cavanagh, J., dissenting). Neither Douglas nor any other decision of this Court warrants extending the right to counsel to discretionary review, even on a defendants initial appeal.
Just as important, the rationale of
Douglas does not support extending the right to counsel
to this particular form of discretionary review. Admittedly,
the precise rationale for the Griffin/Douglas
line of cases has never been made explicit. Ross,
supra, at 608609. Those cases, however, have a
common theme. States may not impose financial barriers that
preclude indigent defendants from securing appellate review
altogether. Griffin, 351 U.S., at 1718 (plurality
opinion); id., at 22 (Frankfurter, J., concurring in
judgment); Burns v. Ohio, 360 U.S. 252, 258
(1959); Smith v. Bennett, 365 U.S. 708,
713714 (1961). Nor may States create
Far from being an arbitrary or unreasoned distinction, Michigans differentiation between defendants convicted at trial and defendants convicted by plea is sensible. First and perhaps foremost, the danger of wrongful convictions is less significant than in Douglas. In Douglas, California preliminarily denied counsel to all indigent defendants, regardless of whether they maintained their innocence at trial or conceded their guilt by plea. Here, Michigan preliminarily denies paid counsel only to indigent defendants who admit or do not contest their guilt. And because a defendant who pleads guilty may not thereafter raise independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea, Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973), the potential issues that can be raised on appeal are more limited, Bulger, 462 Mich., at 517, and n. 7, 614 N. W. 2d, at 112113, and n. 7. Further, as the Michigan Supreme Court has explained,
[p]lea proceedings are also shorter, simpler, and more routine than trials; the record most often consists of the factual basis for the plea that is provided to the trial court. In contrast with trials, less danger exists in plea cases that the record will be so unclear, or the errors so hidden, that the defendants appeal will be reduced to a meaningless ritual. Id., at 517, 614 N. W. 2d, at 112.
When a defendant pleads in open court, there is less need for
counsel to develop the record and refine claims to present to
an appellate court. These are all
The brief history of Michigans system confirms this. When Michigan voters amended the State Constitution to establish the current system, roughly 13,000 civil and criminal appeals per year clogged the Michigan Court of Appeals docket. Of those, nearly a third were appeals by criminal defendants who had pleaded guilty or no contest. Even though at the time plea-convicted defendants were appointed paid appellate counsel, few of these defendants were granted relief on appeal. Simply put, Michigans bar and bench were devoting a substantial portion of their scarce resources to thousands of cases with little practical effect. Reallocating resources was not invidious discrimination against criminal defendants, indigent or otherwise. Douglas, 372 U.S., at 356 (internal quotation omitted). It was an attempt to ensure that frivolous appeals [were] not subsidized and public moneys not needlessly spent. Griffin, supra, at 24 (Frankfurter, J., concurring in judgment).
Todays decision will therefore do no favors for indigent defendants in Michiganat least, indigent defendants with nonfrivolous claims. While defendants who admit their guilt will receive more attention, defendants who maintain their innocence will receive less. Even some defendants who plead guilty will feel the pinch, because plea-convicted defendants are entitled to counsel in preparing their leave applications if, for example, they appeal from conditional pleas, Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §770.3a(2)(d) (2005), or their sentences exceed the applicable guidelines ranges, §770.3a(2)(b). And any plea-convicted defendant granted leave to appeal is entitled to appointed counsel. §770.3a(2)(c). Holding Michigans resources constant (since we have no control over the States bar or budget), the majoritys policy choice to redistribute the States limited resources only harms those most likely to have worthwhile claimsto say nothing of the cost of enabling courts and prosecutors to respond to the over-lawyering of minor cases. Alabama v. Shelton, 535 U.S. 654, 681 (2002) (Scalia, J., dissenting); cf. Rompilla v. Beard, ante, at 8 (Kennedy, J., dissenting). Then, too, Michigan is under no constitutional obligation to provide appeals for plea-convicted defendants. Ante, at 2 (citing McKane v. Durston, 153 U.S. 684 (1894)). Michigan may decline to provide an appellate process altogether (since the Courts ruling increases the cost of having a system of appellate review). Surely plea-convicted defendants would prefer appeals with limited access to counsel than no appeals at all.
The majority does not attempt to demonstrate that Michigans system is the sort of unreasoned discrimination against indigent defendants Douglas prohibits. Instead, the majority says that this case is earmarked by two considerations that were also key to this Courts decision in Douglas: First, when a plea-convicted defendant seeks leave to appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals adjudicates the leave application with reference to the merits. Ante, at 9. Second, the plea-convicted defendant who seeks leave to appeal is generally ill equipped to represent [himself]. Ibid. Neither of these arguments is correct.
The majority reasons that in adjudicating an application for leave to appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals is guided by the merits of the particular defendants claims. Ante, at 11. The distinction that Douglas drew, however, was not between appellate systems that involve some evaluation of the merits of the applicants claims and those that do not, ante, at 10, but instead between discretionary and mandatory review. Supra, at 46. Of course the California intermediate courts in Douglas evaluated cases on their merits: These courts were hearing appeals as of right.
The Michigan Court of Appeals probably does consider the merits of the applicants claims in exercising its discretion; so do other courts of discretionary review, including this Court. For instance, this Court would be unlikely to grant a case to announce a rule that could not alter the cases disposition, or to correct an error that had not affected the proceedings below. This Court often considers whether errors are worth correcting in both plenary and summary dispositions. None of this converts discretionary, error-noticing review into mandatory, error-correcting review.
Likewise, the Michigan Court of Appeals is not required to hear particular cases or correct particular errors. It may elect to hear cases when it finds the trial courts disposition questionable or dubious. Or it may elect to hear cases when it finds the trial courts disposition important or interesting. For all we know, it may (and probably does) consider both. Regardless, the Court of Appeals decision to grant review remains discretionary, because it does not depend on whether there has been a correct adjudication of guilt in every individual case. Ross, 417 U.S., at 615. Like other courts of discretionary review, the Court of Appeals may opt to correct errors, ante, at 1011, and n. 3but it is not compelled to do so.
The majority appears to dispute that review before the Michigan Court of Appeals is truly discretionary, ante, at 1011, and n. 4, but it provides no support for its speculation. Unlike the California District Court of Appeal in Douglas, the Michigan Court of Appeals has discretion in deciding whether to grant leave applications. See Bulger, 462 Mich., at 519, 614 N. W. 2d, at 113 (describing the issue as whether a defendant is entitled under the federal constitution to appointed counsel in a first discretionary appeal from a plea-based conviction (emphasis in original)); id., at 542543, 614 N. W. 2d, at 125 (Cavanagh, J., dissenting) (Nothing in our court rules or statute precludes the Court of Appeals from denying leave even though it may believe that the trial courts decision was incorrect). So far as we can tell, the Michigan Court of Appeals decision to grant or deny a leave application is not constrained by any state constitutional provision, statute, or court rule. The Michigan Court of Appeals may deny leave for any reason, or for no reason at all.
The majoritys holding suggests that Michigans system would pass constitutional muster if the Court of Appeals recited lack of importance in the grounds presented as its ground for denying leave, ante, at 1012, or if its decisional criteria were set forth in a statute, judicial decision, or court rule, ibid. Yet the relevant inquiry under Douglas and Ross is whether the Court of Appeals is obliged to review the casenot whether the Court of Appeals must or does offer a particular ground for declining review.
The majority also asserts that, without counsel, plea-convicted defendants who seek leave to appeal are generally ill equipped to represent themselves. Ante, at 9. This overgeneralizes Douglas rationale. The Douglas Court was concerned with the barren record that would follow a defendant on appeal. 372 U.S., at 356. For where the record [was] unclear or the errors [were] hidden, the appellate court would have difficulty detecting errors without the assistance of counsel. Id., at 358.
This is in part why this Court in Ross did not extend the right to counsel to discretionary review before the North Carolina Supreme Court. Before that court, a defendant applying for leave had a transcript or other record of trial proceedings, a brief on his behalf in the Court of Appeals setting forth his claims of error, and in many cases an opinion by the Court of Appeals disposing of his case. Ross, 417 U.S., at 615. Coupled with whatever the defendant might submit on his own, these materials provided the State Supreme Court with an adequate basis for its decision to grant or deny review. Ibid.
The majority does not argue that indigent plea-convicted defendants who file leave applications do so with a barren record, Douglas, supra, at 356, or that the Michigan Court of Appeals lacks an adequate basis for reviewing their leave applications, Ross, supra, at 615. The Michigan Supreme Court put it best:
[Michigans] court rules require trial counsel to assist the defendant in organizing and presenting to the trial court any potential appellate issues that warrant preservation. Accordingly, a pro se defendant seeking discretionary review will have the benefit of a transcript, trial counsels framing of the issues in the motion to withdraw, and the trial courts ruling on the motion. Bulger, supra, at 518, 614 N. W. 2d, at 113; see also Mich. Ct. Rule 6.005(H)(4) (2005).
As in Ross, these materials aid both the plea-convicted defendant and the Michigan Court of Appeals in identifying claims appropriate for plenary consideration. A plea-convicted defendant does not face a record unreviewed by counsel, and he does not lack any reasoned treatment of his claims. And, again, plea proceedings tend to be more transparent than trials, supra, at 6; less danger exists in plea cases that the record will be so unclear, or the errors so hidden, Bulger, supra, at 517, 614 N. W. 2d, at 112, that the Michigan Court of Appeals will be unable to identify issues that deserve further examination on appeal. After all, the Michigan Court of Appeals need know only enough to decide whether to grant further review. Should it elect to do so, Michigan law requires the appointment of counsel to aid in the appeal. Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §770.3a(2)(c) (2005).
The majoritys unwillingness to
confront the distinctions between Michigans system and
the California system at issue in Douglas is made clear
by its reliance on Swenson v. Bosler, 386 U.S. 258 (1967)
(per curiam). Swenson considered whether
indigent defendants convicted at trial have a right to
appointed counsel during their initial appeal as of right, even
if the State provides indigent defendants with a trial
transcript and a motion for a new trial prepared by trial
counsel. Id., at 258259. But Douglas had
already answered that question, as this Court summarily
declared: [Appointed counsel] may not be denied to a
criminal defendant, solely because of his indigency, on the
only appeal which the State affords him as a matter of
right. 386 U.S., at 259 (emphasis added). Of
course, Michigans entire argument is that there is a
[r]easoned distinction between defendants convicted
following trials and pleas, as there is between appeals as of
right and discretionary review. M. L. B., 519
U.S., at 111 (citation omitted); Brief for
Respondent 28. This Courts brief, per curiam opinion
in Swenson did not consider, much less address, these
Lacking support in this Courts cases, the majority effects a not-so-subtle shift from whether the record is adequate to enable discretionary review to whether plea-convicted defendants are generally able to [n]aviga[te] the appellate process without a lawyers assistance. Ante, at 14. This rationale lacks any stopping point. Pro se defendants may have difficulty navigating discretionary direct appeals and collateral proceedings, but this Court has never extended the right to counsel beyond first appeals as of right. Supra, at 45, and n. 1. The majority does not demonstrate that pro se defendants have any more difficulty filing leave applications before the Michigan courts than, say, filing petitions for certiorari before this Court.
In fact, this Court receives thousands of pro se petitions every year that list the date and nature of the judgment or order appealed from, Mich. Ct. Rule 7.205(B)(1) (2005); reci[te] the appellants allegations of error and the relief sought, ibid.; and se[t] forth a concise argument in support of the appellants position on each issue, ibid. See this Courts Rule 14 (setting forth analogous requirements for petitions for writs of certiorari). Michigan actually provides a three-page form application accompanied by two pages of instructions for defendants seeking leave to appeal after sentencing on a plea. It counsels defendants to state the issues and facts relevant to the appeal, and state the law that supports your position and explain how the law applies to the facts of your case. Ante, at 15 (internal quotation marks omitted). The majority gives no clue as to how Michigan could make its procedures for seeking leave to appeal less intimidating to the uncounseled. Ibid. Regardless, Michigans procedures are more than sufficient to enable discretionary review.
The majority then attempts to soften the blow by saying that it is doing the State a favor, because providing indigents with appellate counsel will yield applications easier to comprehend. Ante, at 1516. Even assuming the majoritys paternalism is accurate, there is no evidence that the Michigan courts currently have difficulty adjudicating leave applications. At the least, the majority leaves unexplained why the Michigan courts have greater difficulty than do state and federal courts considering discretionary direct appeals and collateral proceedings. And even assuming the Michigan courts have special difficulty, it is unlikely any marginal gains will offset the harms wrought by the majoritys preference for redistributing resources to a set of generally less meritorious claims. Whether or not one agrees with the policy choice made by Michigan voters, it is perfectly constitutional.
Even assuming that there is a right to appointed appellate counsel in these circumstances, the right, like the vast majority of other procedural rights, is waivable, despite the majoritys dictum to the contrary. Moreover, Michigans statutory prohibition on appointed appellate counsel does not prevent defendants from waiving any constitutional right to such counsel. And, in this case, Halberts waiver was knowing and intelligent.
Legal rights, even constitutional ones, are presumptively waivable. United States v. Mezzanatto, 513 U.S. 196, 200201 (1995); see also New York v. Hill, 528 U.S. 110, 114 (2000); Peretz v. United States, 501 U.S. 923, 936 (1991) (The most basic rights of criminal defendants are subject to waiver). The presumption of waivability holds true for the right to counsel. This Court has held repeatedly that a defendant may waive that right, both at trial and at the entry of a guilty plea, so long as the waiver is knowing and intelligent. Iowa v. Tovar, 541 U.S. 77, 88 (2004); Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 835 (1975); Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, 317 U.S. 269, 279 (1942); Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464465 (1938). Michigan seeks a waiver no more extensive than those this Court has already sanctioned at other stages of a criminal proceeding: It asks defendants convicted by plea to waive the right to appointed counsel on appeal.
There may be some nonwaivable rights: ones so fundamental to the reliability of the factfinding process that they may never be waived without irreparably discrediting the federal courts. Mezzanatto, supra, at 204 (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted). The right to appointed counsel on discretionary appeal from a guilty plea, however, is not one of them. Even assuming that the assistance of appellate counsel enhances the reliability of the factfinding process by correcting errors in that process, it cannot possibly be so fundamental to the process that its absence irreparably discredit[s] the federal courts, particularly since the Constitution guarantees no right to an appeal at all, e.g., M. L. B., 519 U.S., at 110, 120. Furthermore, as I have explained, the record of a plea proceeding is fully adequate to enable discretionary review and, in turn, to permit the correction of errors in the factfinding process when necessary. Supra, at 11 (explaining that a plea-convicted defendant does not face a record unreviewed by counsel, and does not lack any reasoned treatment of his claims). And, finally, even if the reliability of the appellate process rather than the trial process is the relevant consideration here, the assistance of appellate counsel is not so fundamental to the appellate process that its absence deprives that process of meaning. Supra, at 6, 1113. Cf. Hill, supra, at 116117 (a constitutional protection may be waived even if it benefits society as well as criminal defendants).
Petitioner emphasizes the difficulty of the choice to which Michigans statute puts criminal defendants: proceed to trial and guarantee the appointment of appellate counsel, or plead guilty and forgo that benefit. But this Court has repeatedly recognized that difficult choices are a necessary byproduct of the criminal justice system, and of plea bargaining in particular. See, e.g., Mezzanatto, supra, at 210; Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 750 (1970). Michigans waiver requires a choice no more demanding than others criminal defendants regularly face.
The majority maintains, first, that Halbert could not waive the right to appointed appellate counsel because Michigan law afforded him no such right to waive; second, in dictum, that the right cannot be waived; and, third, that even if the right can be waived, Halbert did not knowingly and intelligently waive it here. The Court is wrong in each respect.
The majority claims that [a]t the time he entered his plea, Halbert, in common with other defendants convicted on their pleas, had no recognized right to appointed appellate counsel he could elect to forgo. Ante, at 16. This assertion apparently refers to the Michigan statute, Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §770.3a (West 2000). At the time of Halberts plea, the statute provided that, if a defendant was convicted by plea, he generally could not receive appointed appellate counsel. The majoritys reasoning is flawed for at least three reasons.
First, the statement that Halbert, in common with other defendants convicted on their pleas, had no recognized right to appointed appellate counsel, ante, at 16, is either incorrect or irrelevant. If (as we must) we view the waiver decision from the perspective of Halbert and other defendants before entering a plea, the statement is wrong as a matter of Michigan law. The Michigan Court Rules applicable at the time of Halberts plea explicitly provided that he was entitled to appointed appellate counsel if convicted following a trial. Mich. Ct. Rule 6.425(F)(1)(b) (Lexis 2001) (In a case involving a conviction following a trial, if the defendant is indigent, the court must enter an order appointing a lawyer if the request is filed within 42 days after sentencing or within the time for filing an appeal of right). Michigan law thus gave Halbert, before entering a plea, the choice either to proceed to trial and guarantee himself appointed appellate counsel, or to plead guilty or no contest and forgo appointed appellate counsel in most circumstances.
Alternately, by stating that Halbert, in common with other defendants convicted on their pleas, had no recognized right to appointed appellate counsel, ante, at 16, the majority might mean that Michigan law afforded Halbert no right to appointed appellate counsel following a plea-based conviction. If so, the statement is true but irrelevant. Of course Michigan law did not afford Halbert a right to appointed counsel once he pleaded no contest to the charged crimes. But the question is whether, by pleading no contest with knowledge of the condition (no paid counsel on appeal), Halbert accepted the condition and thereby waived his right to paid counsel on appeal. In other words, the question is whether Halbert had no right to counsel following his plea, because he had elected to forgo the right by pleading.
Second, even if the majority were correct about Michigan law, that is beside the point. At issue here is whether Halbert waived any federal constitutional right to appointed appellate counsel he might have enjoyed. Whether Michigan law provides for such counsel says nothing about whether a defendant possesses (and hence can waive) a federal constitutional right to that effect. That Michigan, as a matter of state law, prohibited Halbert from receiving appointed appellate counsel if he pleaded guilty or no contest, is irrelevant to whether Halbert had (and could waive) an independent federal constitutional right to such counsel.
Third, the majority implies that if the existence of a right to paid appellate counsel had been something more than no[t] recognized at the time of Halberts plea, then the right would have been waivable, ante, at 16. What this cryptic statement means is unclear. But it cannot possibly mean that only rights that have been explicitly and uniformly recognized by statute or case law may be waived. If that is what the statement means, then the majority has outlawed all conditional waivers (ones in which a defendant agrees that, if he has such a right, he waives it).
I take it instead that the reference
to rights that are something more than no[t]
recognized, and hence waivable, ante, at 16, means
not just rights that are uniformly recognized, but also rights
whose existence is unsettled. If this understanding of the
majoritys rule is correct, then the rule does not justify
its claim that the constitutional right at issue was wholly
unrecognized. In fact, the existence of such a right was
unsettled when Halbert entered his plea. By that date,
November 7, 2001, the Michigan Supreme Court had issued
Bulger, 462 Mich. 495, 614 N. W. 2d 103, sustaining
over a vigorous dissent the practice of denying the appointment
of appellate counsel on application for leave to appeal a
plea-based conviction; and a Federal District Court had
enjoined Michigan state judges from denying the appointment of
appellate counsel to indigents pursuant to the state statute,
on the ground that the statute was unconstitutional,
Tesmer v. Kowalski, 114 F. Supp. 2d 622,
625629 (ED Mich. 2000). The majority appears to focus on
the fact that Michigan law did not afford defendants this
right, but, again, state law is irrelevant to whether they
possessed a federal constitutional right. The existence of
that right was unsettled
at the time of Halberts plea; hence, on what I take to
be the majoritys own terms, the right should have been waivable.2
The majority attempts to deflect this criticism by saying that nothing in Halberts plea colloquy indicates that he waived an unsettled but assumed right to the assistance of appointed appellate counsel, post-plea. Ante, at 16, n. 7. But any arguable inadequacy in the plea colloquy is a separate issue from, and is irrelevant to, the question at hand: whether the right was recognized, and hence waivable by Halbert (or any other defendant deciding how to plead), irrespective of the content of the plea colloquy.
The majority compounds its error by expressing doubt in dictum that the right to appointed appellate counsel can be waived. Ante, at 17, n. 8. This ignores the well-established presumption of waivability, e.g., Mezzanatto, 513 U.S., at 200201; Hill, 528 U.S., at 114. By ignoring the presumption, the majority effectively reverses it, espousing an analysis that is directly contrary to the approach we have taken in the context of a broad array of constitutional and statutory provisions. Mezzanatto, supra, at 200. For the proposition that Michigans waiver requirement is unconstitutional, the majority cites Douglas, 372 U.S., at 357358, and M. L .B., 519 U.S., at 110113, which explained that states cannot create unreasoned distinctions between indigent and moneyed defendants. Ante, at 17, n. 8. These cases have nothing to do with waiver; they determined only that certain rights existed, not that they both existed and were nonwaivable.
The majority seems to think that Michigans waiver requirement arbitrarily distinguishes between indigents and more affluent persons. As I have explained, however, the statute does no such thing. Rather, it sensibly differentiates between defendants convicted at trial and defendants convicted by plea. Supra, at 67. The majoritys dictum fails to persuade.
In this case, the plea colloquy shows that Halberts waiver was knowing and intelligent, and that any deficiency in the plea colloquy was harmless. See 28 U.S.C. § 2111; cf. Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 11(h). First, Halbert understood he was waiving any appeal as of right: The trial court asked Halbert, You understand if I accept your plea you are giving up or waiving any claim of an appeal as of right, and Halbert answered Yes, sir. App. 22. Second, the court explained the statutory exceptions governing when counsel must or might be appointed, and Halbert again indicated that he understood those conditions. Ante, at 7 (quoting colloquy). In context, the courts enumeration of the limited conditions in which counsel might be appointed informed Halbert that counsel would not be appointed in other circumstances. Third, at the end of the colloquy, the court asked counsel, Any other promises or considerations I should be made aware of? App. 24, and Do counsel believe Ive complied with the court rule regarding no contest pleas? id., at 25, both of which questions the prosecutor and defense attorney answered in the affirmative. Cf. Bradshaw v. Stumpf, ante, at 7 (Where a defendant is represented by competent counsel, the court usually may rely on that counsels assurance that the defendant has been properly informed of the nature and elements of the charge to which he is pleading guilty). Fourth, the court f[ound] the plea understandingly made, voluntary and accurate. App. 25. There can be no serious claim that Halbert would have changed his plea had the court provided further information.
Today the Court confers on defendants
convicted by plea a right nowhere to be found in the
Constitution or this Courts cases. It does so at the
expense of defendants whose claims are, on average, likely more
meritorious. And it ignores that, even if such a right exists,
it is fully waivable and was waived in this case. I
1. Douglas, 372 U.S., at 357; Ross, 417 U.S., at 608 ([Douglas] extended only to initial appeals as of right); Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387, 394 (1985) (Douglas is limited to the first appeal as of right); Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 555 (1987) ([T]he right to appointed counsel extends to the first appeal of right, and no further); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 755 (1991) ([Douglas] establish[es] that an indigent criminal defendant has a right to appointed counsel in his first appeal as of right in state court); see also Wainwright v. Torna, 455 U.S. 586, 587 (1982) (per curiam) ([Ross] held that a criminal defendant does not have a constitutional right to counsel to pursue discretionary state appeals or applications for review in this Court).
2. Moreover, the majoritys failure to make clear which sources of law are to be considered in deciding whether a right is no[t] recognized, ante, at 16, and hence nonwaivable, is bound to wreak havoc. For instance, suppose that a defendant waived the right to appeal his sentence after the regional Court of Appeals had held that the principle of Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), did not apply to the United States Sentencing Guidelines, but before this Court held the contrary in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. ___ (2005). The defendant could claim that, in his circuit, the Sixth Amendment right against the application of the Guidelines was no[t] recognized, and hence that the right was nonwaivable.