Pursuant to a plea-bargaining agreement, petitioner pleaded
guilty in an Arkansas court to charges of first-degree murder and
theft of property, and the court accepted the plea, sentencing him,
in accordance with the State's recommendations, to concurrent
sentences of 35 years for the murder and 10 years for the theft.
Petitioner later filed a federal habeas corpus petition alleging,
that his guilty plea was involuntary by reason
of ineffective assistance of counsel because his court-appointed
attorney had misinformed him that, if he pleaded guilty he would
become eligible for parole after serving one-third of his prison
sentence, whereas, under Arkansas law, petitioner, as a "second
offender," was required to serve one-half of his sentence before
becoming eligible for parole. The District Court denied habeas
relief without a hearing, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
The District Court did not err in declining to
hold a hearing on petitioner's claim. 474 U.
(a) Where a defendant enters a guilty plea upon counsel's
advice, the voluntariness of the plea depends on whether the advice
was within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in
criminal cases. The two-part standard adopted in Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U. S. 668
evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel -- requiring
that the defendant show that counsel's representation fell below an
objective standard of reasonableness, and that there is a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different --
applies to guilty plea challenges based on ineffective assistance
of counsel. In order to satisfy the second, or "prejudice,"
requirement, the defendant must show that there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have
pleaded guilty, and would have insisted on going to trial. Pp.
474 U. S.
(b) In the present case, it is unnecessary to determine whether
there may be circumstances under which erroneous advice by counsel
as to parole eligibility may be deemed constitutionally ineffective
assistance of counsel, because petitioner's allegations were
insufficient to satisfy the "prejudice" requirement. He did not
allege in his habeas petition that, had counsel correctly informed
him about his parole eligibility date,
Page 474 U. S. 53
he would have pleaded not guilty and insisted on going to trial.
Nor did he allege any special circumstances that might support the
conclusion that he placed particular emphasis on his parole
eligibility in deciding whether to plead guilty. P. 474 U. S.
764 F.2d 1279, affirmed.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and
O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in
the judgment, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post,
474 U. S.
JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner William Lloyd Hill pleaded guilty in the Arkansas
trial court to charges of first-degree murder and theft of
property. More than two years later, he sought federal habeas
relief on the ground that his court-appointed attorney had failed
to advise him that, as a second offender, he was required to serve
one-half of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole. The
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas
denied relief without a hearing, and the en banc Court of Appeals
for the Eighth Circuit affirmed by an equally divided court. We
granted certiorari because of the difference between the result
reached in the present case and that reached by the Court of
Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Strader v. Garrison,
F.2d 61 (1979). 470 U.S. 1049 (1985). We affirm the judgment of the
Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit because we conclude that
petitioner failed to allege the kind of prejudice from the
allegedly incompetent advice of counsel that would have entitled
him to a hearing.
Under Arkansas law, the murder charge to which petitioner
pleaded guilty carried a potential sentence of 5 to 50
Page 474 U. S. 54
years or life in prison, along with a fine of up to $15,000.
Ark.Stat.Ann. §§ 41-1502(3), 41-901(1)(a), 41-1101(1)(a) (1977).
Petitioner's court-appointed attorney negotiated a plea agreement
pursuant to which the State, in return for petitioner's plea of
guilty to both the murder and theft charges, agreed to recommend
that the trial judge impose concurrent prison sentences of 35 years
for the murder and 10 years for the theft. Petitioner signed a
written "plea statement" indicating that he understood the charges
against him and the consequences of pleading guilty, that his plea
had not been induced "by any force, threat, or promise" apart from
the plea agreement itself, that he realized that the trial judge
was not bound by the plea agreement and retained the sole "power of
sentence," and that he had discussed the plea agreement with his
attorney and was satisfied with his attorney's advice. The last two
lines of the "plea statement," just above petitioner's signature,
"I am aware of everything in this document. I fully understand
what my rights are, and I voluntarily plead guilty because I am
guilty as charged."
Petitioner appeared before the trial judge at the plea hearing,
recounted the events that gave rise to the charges against him,
affirmed that he had signed and understood the written "plea
statement," reiterated that no "threats or promises" had been made
to him other than the plea agreement itself, and entered a plea of
guilty to both charges. The trial judge accepted the guilty plea
and sentenced petitioner in accordance with the State's
recommendations. The trial judge also granted petitioner credit for
the time he had already served in prison, and told petitioner that
"[y]ou will be required to serve at least one-third of your time
before you are eligible for parole."
More than two years later, petitioner filed a federal habeas
corpus petition alleging, inter alia,
that his guilty plea
was involuntary by reason of ineffective assistance of counsel
because his attorney had misinformed him as to his parole
Page 474 U. S. 55
date. According to petitioner, his attorney had told him that,
if he pleaded guilty, he would become eligible for parole after
serving one-third of his prison sentence. In fact, because
petitioner previously had been convicted of a felony in Florida, he
was classified under Arkansas law as a "second offender," and was
required to serve one-half of his sentence before becoming eligible
for parole. Ark.Stat.Ann. §43-2829B(3) (1977). Petitioner asked the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas
to reduce his sentence to a term of years that would result in his
becoming eligible for parole in conformance with his original
The District Court denied habeas relief without a hearing. The
court noted that neither Arkansas nor federal law required that
petitioner be informed of his parole eligibility date prior to
pleading guilty, and concluded that, even if petitioner was misled
by his attorney's advice, parole eligibility "is not such a
consequence of [petitioner's] guilty plea that such misinformation
renders his plea involuntary." The court also held that,
"even if an attorney's advice concerning such eligibility is not
wholly accurate, such advice does not render that attorney's
performance constitutionally inadequate."
A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
affirmed, holding that parole eligibility is a collateral, rather
than a direct, consequence of a guilty plea, of which a defendant
need not be informed, and that the District Court did not err in
declining to hold a hearing on petitioner's claims. 731 F.2d 568,
570-573 (1984). One judge dissented, arguing that a hearing should
have been held to determine whether the attorney's alleged mistake
in informing petitioner about "the applicable law" constituted
ineffective assistance of counsel and warranted vacating the guilty
at 573-574 (Heaney, J., dissenting). On
rehearing, the en banc Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of
Page 474 U. S. 56
Court by an equally divided court. 764 F.2d 1279 (1985).
The longstanding test for determining the validity of a guilty
plea is "whether the plea represents a voluntary and intelligent
choice among the alternative courses of action open to the
defendant." North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U. S.
, 400 U. S. 31
(1970); see Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.
, 395 U. S. 242
(1969); Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.
, 368 U. S. 493
(1962). Here petitioner does not contend that his plea was
"involuntary" or "unintelligent" simply because the State through
its officials failed to supply him with information about his
parole eligibility date. We have never held that the United States
Constitution requires the State to furnish a defendant with
information about parole eligibility in order for the defendant's
plea of guilty to be voluntary, and indeed such a constitutional
requirement would be inconsistent with the current rules of
procedure governing the entry of guilty pleas in the federal
Fed.Rule Crim.Proc. 11(c); Advisory
Committee's Notes on 1974 Amendment to Fed.Rule Crim. Proc. 11, 18
U.S.C.App. p. 22 (federal courts generally are not required to
inform defendant about parole eligibility before accepting guilty
plea). Instead, petitioner relies entirely on the claim that his
plea was "involuntary" as a result of ineffective assistance of
counsel because his attorney supplied him with information about
parole eligibility that was erroneous. Where, as here, a defendant
is represented by counsel during the plea process and enters his
plea upon the advice of counsel, the voluntariness of the plea
depends on whether counsel's advice "was within the range of
competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases." McMann v.
Richardson, 397 U. S. 759
397 U. S. 771
(1970). As we explained in Tollett v. Henderson,
411 U. S. 258
(1973), a defendant who pleads guilty upon the advice of
"may only attack the voluntary and intelligent character of the
guilty plea by showing that the advice he received from counsel
Page 474 U. S. 57
was not within the standards set forth in McMann.
at 411 U. S.
Our concern in McMann v. Richardson
with the quality of
counsel's performance in advising a defendant whether to plead
guilty stemmed from the more general principle that all "defendants
facing felony charges are entitled to the effective assistance of
competent counsel." 397 U.S. at 397 U. S. 771
and n. 14; see Reece v. Georgia, 350 U. S.
, 350 U. S. 90
(1955); Powell v. Alabama, 287 U. S.
(1932). Two Terms ago, in Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U. S. 668
(1984), we adopted a two-part standard for evaluating claims of
ineffective assistance of counsel. There, citing McMann,
we reiterated that,
"[w]hen a convicted defendant complains of the ineffectiveness
of counsel's assistance, the defendant must show that counsel's
representation fell below an objective standard of
466 U.S. at 466 U. S.
-688. We also held, however, that
"[t]he defendant must show that there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the
result of the proceeding would have been different."
at 466 U. S. 694
This additional "prejudice" requirement was based on our conclusion
that "[a]n error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable,
does not warrant setting aside the judgment of a criminal
proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment."
at 466 U. S.
Although our decision in Strickland v. Washington
with a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in a capital
sentencing proceeding, and was premised in part on the similarity
between such a proceeding and the usual criminal trial, the same
two-part standard seems to us applicable to ineffective assistance
claims arising out of the plea process. Certainly our
justifications for imposing the "prejudice" requirement in
Strickland v. Washington
are also relevant in the context
of guilty pleas:
"The government is not responsible for, and hence not able to
prevent, attorney errors that will result in reversal of a
conviction or sentence. Attorney errors come in
Page 474 U. S. 58
infinite variety, and are as likely to be utterly harmless in a
particular case as they are to be prejudicial. They cannot be
classified according to likelihood of causing prejudice. Nor can
they be defined with sufficient precision to inform defense
attorneys correctly just what conduct to avoid. Representation is
an art, and an act or omission that is unprofessional in one case
may be sound or even brilliant in another. Even if a defendant
shows that particular errors of counsel were unreasonable,
therefore, the defendant must show that they actually had an
adverse effect on the defense."
at 466 U. S.
In addition, we believe that requiring a showing of "prejudice"
from defendants who seek to challenge the validity of their guilty
pleas on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel will serve
the fundamental interest in the finality of guilty pleas we
identified in United States v. Timmreck, 441 U.
"'Every inroad on the concept of finality undermines confidence
in the integrity of our procedures; and, by increasing the volume
of judicial work, inevitably delays and impairs the orderly
administration of justice. The impact is greatest when new grounds
for setting aside guilty pleas are approved, because the vast
majority of criminal convictions result from such pleas. Moreover,
the concern that unfair procedures may have resulted in the
conviction of an innocent defendant is only rarely raised by a
petition to set aside a guilty plea.'"
at 441 U. S. 784
(quoting United States v. Smith,
440 F.2d 521, 528-529
(CA7 1971) (Stevens, J., dissenting)).
We hold, therefore, that the two-part Strickland v.
test applies to challenges to guilty pleas based on
ineffective assistance of counsel. In the context of guilty pleas,
the first half of the Strickland v. Washington
nothing more than a restatement of the standard of attorney
competence already set forth in Tollett v. Henderson,
Page 474 U. S. 59
McMann v. Richardson, supra.
The second, or
"prejudice," requirement, on the other hand, focuses on whether
counsel's constitutionally ineffective performance affected the
outcome of the plea process. In other words, in order to satisfy
the "prejudice" requirement, the defendant must show that there is
a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would
not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.
In many guilty plea cases, the "prejudice" inquiry will closely
resemble the inquiry engaged in by courts reviewing ineffective
assistance challenges to convictions obtained through a trial. For
example, where the alleged error of counsel is a failure to
investigate or discover potentially exculpatory evidence, the
determination whether the error "prejudiced" the defendant by
causing him to plead guilty rather than go to trial will depend on
the likelihood that discovery of the evidence would have led
counsel to change his recommendation as to the plea. This
assessment, in turn, will depend in large part on a prediction
whether the evidence likely would have changed the outcome of a
trial. Similarly, where the alleged error of counsel is a failure
to advise the defendant of a potential affirmative defense to the
crime charged, the resolution of the "prejudice" inquiry will
depend largely on whether the affirmative defense likely would have
succeeded at trial. See, e.g., Evans v. Meyer,
371, 375 (CA7 1984) ("It is inconceivable to us . . . that [the
defendant] would have gone to trial on a defense of intoxication,
or that, if he had done so, he either would have been acquitted or,
if convicted, would nevertheless have been given a shorter sentence
than he actually received"). As we explained in Strickland v.
Page 474 U. S. 60
of the outcome at a possible trial, where necessary, should be
made objectively, without regard for the "idiosyncrasies of the
particular decisionmaker." Id.
at 466 U. S.
In the present case, the claimed error of counsel is erroneous
advice as to eligibility for parole under the sentence agreed to in
the plea bargain. App. 31. We find it unnecessary to determine
whether there may be circumstances under which erroneous advice by
counsel as to parole eligibility may be deemed constitutionally
ineffective assistance of counsel, because in the present case we
conclude that petitioner's allegations are insufficient to satisfy
the Strickland v. Washington
requirement of "prejudice."
Petitioner did not allege in his habeas petition that, had counsel
correctly informed him about his parole eligibility date, he would
have pleaded not guilty and insisted on going to trial. He alleged
no special circumstances that might support the conclusion that he
placed particular emphasis on his parole eligibility in deciding
whether or not to plead guilty. Indeed, petitioner's mistaken
belief that he would become eligible for parole after serving
one-third of his sentence would seem to have affected not only his
calculation of the time he likely would serve if sentenced pursuant
to the proposed plea agreement, but also his calculation of the
time he likely would serve if he went to trial and were
Because petitioner in this case failed to allege the kind of
"prejudice" necessary to satisfy the second half of the
Strickland v. Washington
test, the District Court did not
err in declining to hold a hearing on petitioner's ineffective
assistance of counsel claim. The judgment of the Court of Appeals
* Several Courts of Appeals have adopted this general approach.
See Thomas v. Lockhart,
738 F.2d 304, 307 (CA8 1984);
accord, United States v. Gavilan,
761 F.2d 226, 228 (CA5
1985); Beans v. Black,
757 F.2d 933, 936-937 (CA8 1985);
Mitchell v. Scully,
746 F.2d 951, 957 (CA2 1984);
Evans v. Meyer,
742 F.2d 371, 374-375 (CA7 1984).
JUSTICE WHITE, with whom JUSTICE STEVENS joins, concurring in
The only question properly before the Court is whether
petitioner is entitled to an evidentiary hearing in a federal
habeas proceeding where he has alleged that his guilty plea
Page 474 U. S. 61
entered in state court was involuntary, and resulted from
ineffective assistance of counsel. I write separately to state why,
under the particular facts of this case, petitioner is not entitled
to an evidentiary hearing on his habeas claim of ineffective
assistance of counsel.
It is necessary, in my view, to focus on the "plea statement"
signed by petitioner. The statement is a standardized form to be
completed by defense counsel, in consultation with his client, and
submitted to the court for consideration. The form calls for the
insertion of specific information in the appropriate spaces. Among
the items to be included are the crime with which the defendant is
charged, whether that crime is a felony or a misdemeanor, and the
maximum sentence and/or fine defendant could receive if found
guilty of the offense. There is also a blank space in which to
indicate the number of prior convictions which the defendant has
suffered. App. 28.
As the majority indicates, petitioner signed such a written
"plea statement" indicating that he understood the charges against
him, the consequences of pleading guilty, and that he was "aware of
everything in this document." Ante
at 54; App. 28. In the
space provided for disclosing the number of prior convictions,
petitioner's form reads "0." Ibid.
Although it is unclear whether petitioner or his counsel filled
out the form and inserted this number, there is no allegation that
petitioner told his attorney about his previous Florida felony
conviction. Indeed, it is incredible that the attorney would have
filled in the "0" had he known there was a prior conviction.
Petitioner thus has no factual basis for suggesting that his
attorney's advice was incompetent, or that he was affirmatively
misled by counsel as to his earliest possible parole eligibility
date. Without an allegation that the attorney knew of petitioner's
prior conviction, but failed to inform him of the applicability of
the Arkansas "second offender" statute, there is no reason to
provide petitioner with an evidentiary hearing on his claim of
Page 474 U. S. 62
of counsel. None of his allegations, if proved, would entitle
petitioner to relief, as there is nothing in the record to indicate
"that [defense] counsel's representation fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness." Strickland v. Washington,
466 U. S. 668
466 U. S.
-688 (1984); see also McMann v. Richardson,
397 U. S. 759
397 U. S. 771
Were it not for the misinformation in the plea statement -- had
petitioner's attorney known of a prior conviction and still
informed petitioner that he would be eligible for parole after
serving one-third of his sentence -- petitioner would be entitled
to an evidentiary hearing and an opportunity to prove that
counsel's failure to advise of him of the effect of Ark.Stat.Ann. §
43-2829B(3) (1977) amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel.
The failure of an attorney to inform his client of the relevant law
clearly satisfies the first prong of the Strickland
analysis adopted by the majority, as such an omission cannot be
said to fall within "the wide range of professionally competent
assistance" demanded by the Sixth Amendment. Strickland v.
Moreover, an examination of the record reveals that petitioner
alleged sufficient facts to
"show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have
insisted on going to trial."
at 474 U. S. 59
the first two paragraphs of his habeas petition, petitioner
alleged, in pertinent part, as follows:
"I agreed to plead guilty with the understanding that I'd get 35
yrs. for 1st degree murder & 10 years concurrent for theft of
property, and that I would only have 1/3 of my sentence to do, less
good time. . . ."
"My lawyer told me that a plea negotiation was binding to both
sides, and that the Court would impose the sentence agreed to by me
and the prosecutor. I did not know that the Court could deviate
from the concessions agreed to without informing me, nor that it
could say to do 1/3 minimum enstead [sic
] of just 1/3,
Page 474 U. S. 63
Later, petitioner made the following objections to the
Magistrate's proposed order:
"Petitioner's first two arguments should be restated to allege
that his guilty plea was involuntary in that his counsel improperly
advised him as to his earliest possible parole eligibility date,
and, as a result of that incorrect advice, the Petitioner did not
fully understand the consequences of his plea."
"The Petitioner contends that his counsel's erroneous advice
concerning his potential parole eligibility date was a critical
factor in his decision to enter a guilty plea. It was an important
consequence of his plea which he did not understand."
"It is Petitioner's contention that he would not have entered
the negotiated plea had his attorney correctly advised him that he
would be required to serve one-half of his sentence less good time
under Arkansas law."
In sum, because petitioner failed to allege that his attorney
knew about his prior conviction, but failed to inform him of the
applicability of Ark.Stat.Ann. § 43-2829B(3) (1977), I find that
petitioner did not allege sufficient facts to entitle him to an
evidentiary hearing on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim.
Had petitioner made such an allegation, however, he would be
entitled to such a hearing, as he clearly alleged more than
sufficient facts that, if proved, would show that he was prejudiced
by his counsel's error, and thus entitled to habeas relief.