Premo v. Moore

PETITIONER: Jeff Premo, Superintendent, Oregon State Penitentiary
RESPONDENT: Randy Joseph Moore
LOCATION: Marion County Circuit Court

DOCKET NO.: 09-658
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 562 US 115 (2011)
GRANTED: Mar 22, 2010
ARGUED: Oct 12, 2010
DECIDED: Jan 19, 2011

John R. Kroger - Attorney General of Oregon, for the petitioner
Steven T. Wax - for the respondent

Facts of the case

Randy Moore pled no-contest to felony murder in an Oregon trial court and sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment. After exhausting his post-conviction state court remedies, Mr. Moore petitioned for habeas corpus relief in an Oregon federal district court. Mr. Moore argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to recognize that his taped confession was obtained unconstitutionally. The district court denied the petition.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and granted the petition. The court held that Mr. Moore's counsel's failure to suppress Mr. Moore's confession was both constitutionally deficient and prejudicial under the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington. The court was careful to note that even the state conceded the means by which the state elicited Mr. Moore's confession were unconstitutional because Mr. Moore's request for counsel had been ignored by the police.


Does a lawyer provide inadequate representation by failing to seek suppression of a client's confession before he pleads no contest to murder?

Media for Premo v. Moore

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 12, 2010 in Premo v. Moore

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 19, 2011 in Premo v. Moore

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The second case to be announced is Premo versus Moore, Number 09-658.

Moore was found guilty of murder in an Oregon state court.

And this case calls for determinations that are parallel in some respects to those just discussed in Harrington versus Richter.

Particularly, it involves an allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Richter, the case just discussed involved an allegation that the defense counsel in the conduct and preparation of the trial was -- was deficient.

This case concerns Moore's claim that his counsel was deficient during pretrial negotiations that led to a plea agreement.

There was never a trial.

There was a plea agreement of plea of guilty.

Randy Moore kidnapped a man in Oregon and killed him with a single shot to the head.

He admitted the killing of two people and then confessed to the police.

He said the gun's discharge was accidental.

He pled no contest to felony murder.

And after that, no contest plea, he was found guilty by the trial judge.

He received the 25-year sentence, which was the minimum allowed under Oregon law.

Later, he sought postconviction relief from an Oregon court.

He argued that his attorney was ineffective.

He said that his counsel should have moved to suppress the confessions before Moore made the plea agreement.

The Oregon court rejected the claim.

It concluded that suppression would have been fruitless because Moore had also confessed to two other people.

The District Court denied Moore's subsequent petition for federal habeas corpus but the Court of Appeals reversed.

The Court of Appeals was wrong to accord scant deference to counsel's judgment.

And it was doubly wrong to conclude that it would have been unreasonable for the state court to find that the defense attorney provided effective assistance.

Acknowledging guilt and accepting responsibility by an early plea respond to certain basic premises in the law and its function.

Those principles are eroded if a guilty plea is too easily set aside based on facts and circumstances not apparent to counsel at the time of plea is being considered.

Plea bargains are the result of complex negotiations, and defense attorneys must make careful strategic choices in balancing the opportunities and the risks.

The opportunity -- opportunities, of course, include pleading to a lesser charge and obtaining a lesser sentence, as compared with what might be the outcome, not only at trial but from a later plea offer if the case grows stronger and the prosecutors find stiffened resolve.

A risk, in addition to the obvious one of losing the chance for a defense verdict, is that an early plea might come before the prosecution finds its case is getting weaker, not stronger.

The State's case can begin to fall apart as stories change and witnesses become unavailable, and new suspects are identified.

Moore's counsel could reasonably believe that a swift plea bargain would allow his client to take advantages of the State's aversion to these hazards.

A plea would also eliminate the possibility that one of Moore's accomplices would testify against him in exchange for a better deal for themselves.