Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, June 12, 2015

Arvelo: Guilty Plea does not waive ineffective assistance claim

In Arvelo v. Sec., Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 14-11441 (June 10, 2015), the Court reversed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate serving a 60-year sentence for attempted sexual battery and kidnapping with the intent to commit sexual battery, who claimed his lawyer was ineffective in failing to move to suppress his confession. A Florida habeas court had rejected Arvelo’s ineffective assistance claim on the ground that Arvelo waived that claim by pleading guilty. The Court found that this ruling was contrary to well-established law, which holds that the entry of a plea does not waive an ineffective assistance claim. The district court reasoned that evidence other than Arvelo’s confession supported the conviction. Rejecting this finding, the Court noted that Arvelo’s confession was the only direct evidence supporting the “intent to commit sexual battery” element of the offenses. The District Court also reasoned that by pleading guilty, Arvelo received the “benefit” of lower, 60-year, sentence. The Court noted that this was the wrong analysis. What mattered was not the sentence, but the viability of the motion to suppress. The District Court further reasoned that Arvelo did not prove that his confession was involuntary. But because no evidentiary hearing was held, the factual record was not developed on the voluntariness of the confession. The Court therefore remanded the case for the district court to hold an evidentiary hearing, and to reconsider the ineffective assistance claim.