BONIN v. CALIFORNIAAnnotate this Case
494 U.S. 1039 (1990)
U.S. Supreme Court
BONIN v. CALIFORNIA , 494 U.S. 1039 (1990)
494 U.S. 1039
William George BONIN, petitioner,
CALIFORNIA. No. 88-7381.
Supreme Court of the United States
March 19, 1990
The petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of California.
Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.
Adhering to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth
and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 231, 2973 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting), I would grant the petition for certiorari and vacate the death penalty in this case. Even if I did not take this view, I would grant the petition because it raises several important and recurring questions concerning a criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel unburdened by any conflict of interest. First, on what showing must a trial court explore a possible conflict on the part of a defendant's attorney? Second, if a defendant's attorney had an actual conflict, must the defendant demonstrate that the conflict adversely affected the attorney's performance in order to obtain a new trial?
On the eve of his trial for several murders and robberies, petitioner William George Bonin moved to replace Earl Hanson, who had been his attorney for over a year, with William Charvet. The prosecution opposed the motion principally on the ground that substituting Charvet would create two conflicts of interest that could jeopardize the effectiveness of Charvet's representation. First, Charvet had maintained an attorney- client relationship with James Munro, Bonin's alleged accomplice and a key prosecution witness against him, during which Charvet and Munro had discussed the facts of the case. Second, the prosecution maintained that Charvet's retainer agreement likely included a provision giving him the literary rights to Bonin's life story. The trial court initially denied Bonin's motion to substitute Charvet for Hanson, in large part because it found that Charvet's relationship with Munro created an actual conflict of interest. The court later permitted Charvet to represent Bonin, however, without addressing either conflict and without obtaining a waiver from Bonin of his right to conflict-free counsel.
Bonin subsequently was convicted of 10 counts of murder and robbery and sentenced to death. The California Supreme Court, in a split decision, affirmed the convictions and sentence, rejecting Bonin's argument that Charvet's alleged and actual conflicts of interest deprived Bonin of effective assistance of counsel. The court held that the trial court did not err by failing to explore the alleged literary rights agreement because the trial court had not been presented with sufficient evidence of such an agreement. Although the State Supreme Court did find that the trial court erred in allowing Charvet's substitution after learning of his- [494 U.S. 1039 , 1041]