[397 U.S. 759 , 760] Brenda Soloff, New York City, for petitioners.
Michael R. Juviler, New York City, for the District Attorney of New York County, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.
Gretchen White Oberman, New York City, for respondents.
Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petition for certiorari, which we granted, McMann v. Ross, 396 U.S. 813 (1969), seeks reversal of three separate judgments of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordering hearings on petitions for habeas corpus filed by the respondents in this case. 1 The principal issue before us is whether and to what extent an otherwise valid guilty plea may be impeached in collateral proceedings by assertions or proof that the plea was motivated by a prior coerced confession. We find ourselves in substantial disagreement with the Court of Appeals. [397 U.S. 759 , 761] I
The three respondents now before us are Dash, Richardson, and Williams. We first state the essential facts involved as to each.
Dash: In February 1959, respondent Dash was charged with first-degree robbery which, because Dash had previously been convicted of a felony, was punishable by up to 60 years' imprisonment. 2 After pleading guilty to robbery in the second degree in April, he was sentenced to a term of eight to 12 years as a second-felony offender. 3 His petition for collateral relief in the state courts in 1963 was denied without a hearing. 4 [397 U.S. 759 , 762] Relief was then sought in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York where his petition for habeas corpus alleged that his guilty plea was the illegal product of a coerced confession and of the trial judge's threat to impose a 60-year sentence if he was convicted after a plea of not guilty. His petition asserted that he had been beaten, refused counsel, and threatened with false charges prior to his confession and that the trial judge's threat was made during an off- the-record colloquy in one of Dash's appearances in court prior to the date of his plea of guilty. Dash also asserted that his court-appointed attorney had advised pleading guilty since Dash did not 'stand a chance due to the alleged confession signed' by him. The District Court denied the petition without a hearing because 'a voluntary plea of guilty entered on advice of counsel constitutes a waiver of all non-jurisdictional defects in any prior stage of the proceedings against (defendant),' citing United States ex rel. Glenn v. McMann, 349 F.2d 1018 (C.A.2d Cir. 1965), cert. denied, 383 U.S. 915 (1966), and other cases. The allegation of coercion by the trial judge did not call for a hearing since the prosecutor had filed an affidavit in the state court categorically denying that the trial judge ever threatened the defendant. Dash then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Richardson: Respondent Richardson was indicted in April 1963 for murder in the first degree. Two attorneys were assigned to represent Richardson. He initially pleaded not guilty but in July withdrew his plea and pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, specifically admitting at the time that he struck the victim with a knife. He was convicted and sentenced to a term of 30 years to life. Following the denial without a hearing of his application for collateral relief in the [397 U.S. 759 , 763] state courts,5 Richardson filed his petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, alleging in conclusory fashion that his plea of guilty was induced by a coerced confession and by ineffective court-appointed counsel. His petition was denied without a hearing, and he appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, including with his appellate brief a supplemental affidavit in which he alleged that he was beaten into confessing the crime, that his assigned attorney conferred with him only 10 minutes prior to the day the plea of guilty was taken, that he advised his attorney that he did not want to plead guilty to something he did not do, and that his attorney advised him to plead guilty to avoid the electric chair, saying that 'this was not the proper time to bring up the confession' and that Richardson 'could later explain by a writ of habeas corpus how my confession had been beaten out of me.'
Williams: In February 1956, respondent Williams was indicted for five felonies, including rape and robbery. He pleaded guilty to robbery in the second degree in March and was sentenced in April to a term of 7 1/2 to 15 years. After unsuccessful applications for collateral relief in the state courts,6 he petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, asserting that his plea was the consequence of a coerced confession and was made without an understanding of the nature of the [397 U.S. 759 , 764] charge and the consequences of the plea. In his petition and in documents supporting it, allegations were made that he had been handcuffed to a desk while being interrogated, that he was threatened with a pistol and physically abused, and that his attorney, in advising him to plead guilty, ignored his alibi defense and represented that his plea would be to a misdemeanor charge rather than to a felony charge. The petition was denied without a hearing and Williams appealed.
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed in each case, sitting en banc and dividing six to three in Dash's case7 and disposing of Richardson's and Williams' cases in decisions by three-judge panels. 8 In each case it was directed that a hearing be held on the petition for habeas corpus. 9 It was the Court of Appeals' view that [397 U.S. 759 , 765] a plea of guilty is an effective waiver of pretrial irregularities only if the plea is voluntary and that a plea is not voluntary if it is the consequence of an involuntary confession. 10 That the petitioner was represented by counsel and denied the existence of coercion or promises when tendering his plea does not foreclose a hearing on his petition for habeas corpus alleging matters outside the state court record. Although conclusory allegations would in no case suffice, the allegations in each of these cases concerning the manner in which the confession was coerced and the connection between the confession and the plea were deemed sufficient to require a hearing. The law required this much, the Court of Appeals thought, at least in New York, where prior to Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), constitutionally acceptable procedures were unavailable to a defendant to test the voluntariness of his confession. The Court of Appeals also ordered a hearing in each case for reasons other than that the plea was claimed to rest on a coerced confession which the defendant had no adequate opportunity to test in the state courts. In the Dash case, the additional issue to be considered was whether the trial judge coerced the guilty plea by threats as to the probable sentence after trial and conviction on a plea of not guilty; in Richardson, the additional issue was the inadequacy of counsel allegedly arising from the [397 U.S. 759 , 766] short period of consultation and counsel's advice to the effect that the confession issue could be raised after a plea of guilty; and in Williams, the additional question was the alleged failure of counsel to consider Williams' alibi defense and to make it clear that he was pleading to a felony rather than to a misdemeanor.
The core of the Court of Appeals' holding is the proposition that if in a collateral proceeding a guilty plea is shown to have been triggered by a coerced confession-if there would have been no plea had there been no confession-the plea is vulnerable at least in cases coming from New York where the guilty plea was taken prior to Jackson v. Denno, supra. We are unable to agree with the Court of Appeals on this proposition.
A conviction after a plea of guilty normally rests on the defendant's own admission in open court that he committed the acts with which he is charged. Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 , at 748, at 1468; McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466 , 89 S. Ct. 1166, 1170-1171 (1969). That admission may not be compelled, and since the plea is also a waiver of trial-and unless the applicable law otherwise provides,11 a waiver of the right to contest the admissibility of any evidence the State might have offered against the defendant-it must be an intelligent act 'done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences.' Brady v. United States, 397 U.S., at 748 . [397 U.S. 759 , 767] For present purposes, we put aside those cases whrer the defendant has his own reasons for pleading guilty wholly aside from the strength of the case against him as well as those cases where the defendant, although he would have gone to trial had he thought the State could not prove its case, is motivated by evidence against him independent of the confession. In these cases, as the Court of Appeals recognized, the confession, even if coerced, is not a sufficient factor in the plea to justify relief. Neither do we have before us the uncounseled defendant, see Pennsylvania ex rel. Herman v. Claudy, 350 U.S. 116 (1956), nor the situation where the circumstances that coerced the confession have abiding impact and also taint the plea. Cf. Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940). It is not disputed that in such cases a guilty plea is properly open to challenge. 12
The issue on which we differ with the Court of Appeals arises in those situations involving the counseled defendant who allegedly would put the State to its proof if there was a substantial enough chance of acquittal, who would do so except for a prior confession that might be offered against him, and who because of the confession decides to plead guilty to save himself the expense and agony of a trial and perhaps also to min- [397 U.S. 759 , 768] imize the penalty that might be imposed. After conviction on such a plea, is a defendant entitled to a hearing, and to relief if his factual claims are accepted, when his petition for habeas corpus alleges that his confession was in fact coerced and that it motivated his plea? We think not if he alleges and proves no more than this.
Since we are dealing with a defendant who deems his confession crucial to the State's case against him and who would go to trial if he thought his chances of acquittal were good, his decision to plead guilty or not turns on whether he thinks the law will allow his confession to be used against him. For the defendant who considers his confession involuntary and hence unusable against him at a trial, tendering a plea of guilty would seem a most improbable alternative. The sensible course would be to contest his guilt, prevail on his confession claim at trial, on appeal, or, if necessary, in a collateral proceeding, and win acquittal, however guilty he might be. The books are full of cases in New York and elsewhere, where the defendant has made this choice and has prevailed. If he nevertheless pleads guilty the plea can hardly be blamed on the confession which in his view was inadmissible evidence and no proper part of the State's case. Since by hypothesis the evidence aside from the confession is weak and the defendant has no reasons of his own to plead, a guilty plea in such circumstances is nothing less than a refusal to present his federal claims to the state court in the first instance-a choice by the defendant to take the benefits, if any, of a plea of guilty and then to pursue his coerced-confession claim in collateral proceedings. Surely later allegations that the confession rendered his plea involuntary would appear incredible, and whether his plain bypass [397 U.S. 759 , 769] of state remedies was an intelligent act depends on whether he was so incompetently advised by counsel concerning the forum in which he should first present his federal claim that the Constitution will afford him another chance to plead.
A more credible explanation for a plea of guilty by a defendant who would go to trial except for his prior confession is his prediction that the law will permit his admissions to be used against him by the trier of fact. At least the probability of the State's being permitted to use the confession as evidence is sufficient to convince him that the State's case is too strong to contest and that a plea of guilty is the most advantageous course. Nothing in this train of events suggests that the defendant's plea, as distinguished from his confession, is an involuntary act. His later petition for collateral relief asserting that a coerced confession induced his plea is at most a claim that the admissibility of his confession was mistakenly assessed and that since he was erroneously advised, either under the then applicable law or under the law later announced, his plea was an unintelligent and voidable act. The Constitution, however, does not render pleas of guilty so vulnerable.
As we said in Brady v. United States, 397 U.S., at 756 -757-1474, the decision to plead guilty before the evidence is in frequently involves the making of difficult judgments. All the pertinent facts normally cannot be known unless witnesses are examined and cross-examined in court. Even then the truth will often be in dispute. In the face of unavoidable uncertainty, the defendant and his counsel must make their best judgment as to the weight of the State's case. Counsel must predict how the facts, as he understands them, would be viewed by a court. If proved, would those facts convince a judge or jury of the defendant's guilt? On those facts would evidence seized without a warrant be admissible? Would [397 U.S. 759 , 770] the trier of fact on those facts find a confession voluntary and admissible? Questions like these cannot be answered with certitude; yet a decision to plead guilty must necessarily rest upon counsel's answers, uncertain as they may be. Waiving trial entails the inherent risk that the good-faith evaluations of a reasonably competent attorney will turn out to be mistaken either as to the facts or as to what a court's judgment might be on given facts.
That a guilty plea must be intelligently made is not a requirement that all advice offered by the defendant's lawyer withstand retrospective examination in a post-conviction hearing. Courts continue to have serious differences among themselves on the admissibility of evidence, both with respect to the proper standard by which the facts are to be judged and with respect to the application of that standard to particular facts. That this Court might hold a defendant's confession inadmissible in evidence, possibly by a divided vote, hardly justifies a conclusion that the defendant's attorney was incompetent or ineffective when he thought the admissibility of the confession sufficiently probable to advise a plea of guilty.
In our view a defendant's plea of guilty based on reasonably competent advice is an intelligent plea not open to attack on the ground that counsel may have misjudged the admissibility of the defendant's confession. 13 Whether a plea of guilty is unintelligent and therefore vulnerable when motivated by a confession [397 U.S. 759 , 771] erroneously thought admissible in evidence depends as an initial matter, not on whether a court would retrospectively consider counsel's advice to be right or wrong, but on whether that advice was within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases. On the one hand, uncertainty is inherent in predicting court decisions; but on the other hand defendants facing felony charges are entitled to the effective assistance of competent counsel. 14 Beyond this we think the matter, for the most part, should be left to the good sense and discretion of the trial courts with the admonition that if the right to counsel guaranteed by the Constitution is to serve its purpose, defendants cannot be left to the mercies of incompetent counsel, and that judges should strive to maintain proper standards of performance by attorneys who are representing defendants in criminal cases in their courts.
We hold, therefore, that a defendant who alleges that he pleaded guilty because of a prior coerced confession is not, without more, entitled to a hearing on his petition for habeas corpus. Nor do we deem the situation substantially different where the defendant's plea was entered prior to Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964). At issue in that case was the constitutionality of the New York procedure for determining the voluntariness of a confession offered in evidence at a jury trial. This [397 U.S. 759 , 772] procedure, which would have been applicable to the respondents if they had gone to trial, required the trial judge, when the confession was offered and a prima facie case of voluntariness established, to submit the issue to the jury without himself finally resolving disputed issues of fact and determining whether or not the confession was voluntary. The Court held this procedure unconstitutional because it did not 'afford a reliable determination of the voluntariness of the confession offered in evidence at the trial, did not adequately protect Jackson's right to be free of a conviction based upon a coerced confession and therefore cannot withstand constitutional attack under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.' 378 U.S., at 377 . In reaching that conclusion, the Court overruled Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156 (1953), which had approved the New York practice.
Whether a guilty plea was entered before or after Jackson v. Denno, the question of the validity of the plea remains the same: was the plea a voluntary and intelligent act of the defendant? As we have previously set out, a plea of guilty in a state court is not subject to collateral attack in a federal court on the ground that it was motivated by a coerced confession unless the defendant was incompetently advised by his attorney. For the respondents successfully to claim relief based on Jackson v. Denno, each must demonstrate gross error on the part of counsel when he recommended that the defendant plead guilty instead of going to trial and challenging the New York procedures for determining the admissibility of confessions. Such showing cannot be made for precisely this challenge was presented to the New York courts and to this Court in Stein v. New York, supra, and in 1953 this Court found no constitutional [397 U.S. 759 , 773] infirmity in the New York procedures for dealing with coerced-confession claims. Counsel for these respondents cannot be faulted for not anticipating Jackson v. Denno or for considering the New York procedures to be as valid as the four dissenters in that case thought them to be.
We are unimpressed with the argument that because the decision in Jackson has been applied retroactively to defendants who had previously gone to trial, the defendant whose confession allegedly caused him to plead guilty prior to Jackson is also entitled to a hearing on the voluntariness of his confession and to a trial if his admissions are held to have been coerced. A conviction after trial in which a coerced confession is introduced rests in part on the coerced confession, a constitutionally unacceptable basis for conviction. It is that conviction and the confession on which it rests that the defendant later attacks in collateral proceedings. The defendant who pleads guilty is in a different posture. He is convicted on his counseled admission in open court that he committed the crime charged against him. The prior confession is not the basis for the judgment, has never been offered in evidence at a trial, and may never be offered in evidence. Whether or not the advice the defendant received in the pre-Jackson era would have been different had Jackson then been the law has no bearing on the accuracy of the defendant's admission that he committed the crime.
What is at stake in this phase of the case is not the integrity of the state convictions obtained on guilty pleas, but whether, years later, defendants must be permitted to withdraw their pleas, which were perfectly valid when made, and be given another choice between admitting their guilt and putting the State to its proof. It might be suggested that if Jackson had been the law when the pleas in the cases below were made-if the judge [397 U.S. 759 , 774] had been required to rule on the voluntariness of challenged confessions at a trial-there would have been a better chance of keeping the confessions from the jury and there would have been no guilty pleas. But because of inherent uncertainty in guilty-plea advice, this is a highly speculative matter in any particular case and not an issue promising a meaningful and productive evidentiary hearing long after entry of the guilty plea. The alternative would be a per se constitutional rule invalidating all New York guilty pleas that were motivated by confessions and that were entered prior to Jackson. This would be an improvident invasion of the State's interests in maintaining the finality of guilty- plea convictions that were valid under constitutional standards applicable at the time. It is no denigration of the right to trial to hold that when the defendant waives his state court remedies and admits his guilt, he does so under the law then existing; further, he assumes the risk or ordinary error in either his or his attorney's assessment of the law and facts. Although he might have pleaded differently had later decided cases then been the law, he is bound by his plea and his conviction unless he can allege and prove serious derelictions on the part of counsel sufficient to show that his plea was not, after all, a knowing and intelligent act.
As we have previously indicated, in each case below the Court of Appeals ruled that a hearing was required to consider claims other than the claim that the plea of guilty rested on a coerced confession and was entered prior to Jackson v. Denno, supra. With respect to these other claims, we now express no disagreement with the judgments of the Court of Appeals; but since our holding will require reassessment of the petitions for habeas [397 U.S. 759 , 775] corpus in the light of the standards expressed herein, the judgments of the Court of Appeals are vacated and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Judgments vacated and cases remanded.
Mr. Justice BLACK, while still adhering to his separate opinion in Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 , 401-423, 1793-1794, 1805, concurs in the Court's opinion and judgment in this case.
Mr. Justice BRENNAN, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice MARSHALL join, dissenting.
In this case the Court moves yet another step toward the goal of insulating all guilty pleas from subsequent attack no matter what unconstitutional action of government may have induced a particular plea. Respondents alleged in some detail that they were subjected to physical and mental coercion in order to force them to confess; that they succumbed to these pressures; and that because New York provided no constitutionally acceptable procedures for challenging the validity of their confessions in the trial court they had no reasonable alternative to pleading guilty. 1 Respondents' contention, in short, is that their pleas were the product of the State's illegal action. Notwithstanding the possible truth of the claims, the Court holds that respondents are not even entitled to a hearing which would afford them an opportunity to substantiate their allegations. I [397 U.S. 759 , 776] cannot agree, for it is clear that the result reached by the Court is inconsistent not only with the prior decisions of this Court but also with the position adopted by virtually every court of appeals that has spoken on this issue. 2
The basic principle applicable to this case was enunciated for the Court by Mr. Justice Black in Pennsylvania ex rel. Herman v. Claudy, 350 U.S. 116, 118 , 224 (1956): '(A) conviction following trial or on a plea of guilty based on a confession extorted by violence or by mental coercion is invalid under the Federal Due Process Clause.' The critical factor in this formulation is that convictions entered on guilty pleas are not valid if they are 'based on' coerced confessions. A defendant who seeks to overturn his guilty plea must therefore demonstrate the existence of a sufficient interrelationship or nexus between the plea and the antecedent confession so that the plea may be said to be infected by the State's prior illegal action. Thus to invalidate a guilty plea more must be shown than the mere existence of a coerced [397 U.S. 759 , 777] confession. The Court of Appeals so held; respondents do not disagree. The critical question, then, is what elements in addition to the coerced confession must be alleged and proved to demonstrate the invalidity of a guilty plea.
The Court abruptly forecloses any inquiry concerning the impact of an allegedly coerced confession by decreeing that the assistance of 'reasonably competent' counsel insulates a defendant from the effects of a prior illegal confession. However, as the Court tacitly concedes, the absolute rigor of its new rule must be adjusted to accommodate cases such as Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940). In that case, the four defendants confessed. Subsequently, three of them pleaded guilty, while the fourth pleaded not guilty and was tried before a jury. Each of the defendants, represented by counsel, stated during the trial that he had confessed and was testifying voluntarily. 3 Notwithstanding this testimony in open court, the proffering of guilty pleas, and representation by counsel, the state courts and this Court as well properly permitted a collateral attack upon the judgments of conviction entered on the guilty pleas.
In explication of Chambers, the Court notes that the coercive circumstances that compelled the confessions may 'have abiding impact and also taint the plea.' Ante at 767. Apparently the Court would permit a defendant who was represented by counsel to attack his conviction collaterally if he could demonstrate that coercive pressures were brought to bear upon him at the [397 U.S. 759 , 778] very moment he was called to plead. This position is certainly unexceptionable. I cannot agree, however, that the pleading process is constitutionally adequate despite a coerced confession merely because the coercive pressures that compelled the confession ceased prior to the entry of the plea, In short, the 'abiding impact' of the coerced confession may continue to prejudice a defendant's case or unfairly influence his decisions regarding his legal alternatives.
Moreover, our approach in Pennsylvania ex rel. Herman v. Claudy, 350 U.S. 116 (1956), is inconsistent with the absolute rule that the Court adopts today. We there considered whether, under all the circumstances of the case, the pressures brought to bear on the defendant by the State, including the extraction of a coerced confession, were sufficient to render his guilty plea involuntary. While the fact that the defendant was not assisted by counsel was given considerable weight in determining involuntariness, it was hardly the sole critical consideration. Thus the Court's attempt to distinguishe Claudy on the basis of counsel's assistance alone is unpersuasive. I would continue to adhere to the approach adopted in Chambers and Claudy and take into account all of the circumstances surrounding the entry of a plea rather than attach talismanic significance to the presence of counsel.
I concluded in Parker v. North Carolina and Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. at 802, 90 S.Ct. at 1476, that 'the legal concept of 'involuntariness' has not been narrowly confined but refers to a surrender of constitutional rights influenced by considerations that the government cannot properly introduce' into the pleading process. In Parker and Brady the 'impermissible factor' introduced by the government was an unconstitutional death penalty scheme; here the improper influence is a coerced confession. In either event the defendant must establish that the unconstitutional influence actually infected the [397 U.S. 759 , 779] pleading process, that it was a significant factor in his decision to plead guilty. But if he does so, then he is entitled to reversal of the judgment of conviction entered on the plea.
Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219 (1968), lends additional support to this conclusion. There confessions had been illegally procured from a defendant and then introduced at his trial. At a new trial, after reversal of the defendant's conviction, he objected to the introduction of his testimony from the previous trial on the ground that he had been improperly induced to testify at the former trial by the introduction of the inadmissible confessions. We sustained this contention, noting in part that
The same reasoning is applicable here. That is, if the coerced confession induces a guilty plea, that plea, no [397 U.S. 759 , 780] less than the surrender of the self-incrimination privilege in Harrison, is the fruit of the State's prior illegal conduct, and thus is vulnerable to attack. 4 [397 U.S. 759 , 781] As in Parker and Brady the Court lays great stress upon the ability of counsel to offset the improper influence injected into the pleading process by the State's unconstitutional action. However, here again, the conclusions that the Court draws from the role it assigns to counsel are, in my view, entirely incorrect, for it cannot be blandly assumed, without further discussion, that counsel will be able to render effective assistance to the defendant in freeing him from the burdens of his unconstitutionally extorted confession.
In Parker and Brady there was no action that counsel could take to remove the threat posed by the unconstitutional death penalty scheme. There was no way, in short, to counteract the intrusion of an impermissible factor into the pleading process.
However, where the unconstitutional factor is a coerced confession, it is not necessarily true that counsel's role is so limited. It is a common practice, for example, to hold pretrial hearings or devise other procedures for the purpose of permitting defendants an opportunity to challenge the admissibility of allegedly coerced confessions. If it is assumed that these procedures provide a constitutionally adequate means to attack the validity of the confession, then it must be expected that a defendant who subsequently seeks to overturn his guilty plea will come forward with a persuasive explanation for his failure to invoke those procedures which were readily available to test the validity of his confession.
It does not follow from this that a defendant assisted by counsel can never demonstrate that this failure to [397 U.S. 759 , 782] invoke the appropriate procedures was justified. The entry of a guilty plea is, essentially, a waiver, or the 'intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right,' Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464 , 58 S. Ct. 1019, 1023 (1938). By pleading guilty the defendant gives up not only his right to a jury trial, Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969), but also, in most jurisdictions, the opportunity to challenge the validity of his confession by whatever procedures are provided for that purpose. It is always open to a defendant to establish that his guilty plea was not a constitutionally valid waiver, that he did not deliberately bypass the orderly processes provided to determine the validity of confessions. Cf. Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391 , 438- 440, 848-849 (1963). Whether or not there has been a deliberate bypass can be determined, of course, only by a consideration of the total circumstances surrounding the entry of each plea.