Five weeks before his trial, Respondent Maxwell Hoffman rejected an offer by the
state to recommend a life sentence if he would plead guilty to first-degree murder.
Hoffman’s attorney, William Wellman, recommended Hoffman reject the offer
because the Ninth Circuit had earlier determined the Constitution required juries to
find statutory aggravating factors, while in Idaho, judges made such findings.
Wellman believed if Hoffman received a death sentence it would be reversed on
appeal. However, in Walton u. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639 (1990), the Supreme Court
determined the Constitution permits judges to find statutory aggravating factors.
Nevertheless, the Ninth Circuit determined Wellman’s representation was
ineffective during plea negotiations because he “based his advice on incomplete
research, and second, Wellman recommended that his client risk much in exchange
for very little.” The Ninth Circuit also concluded, “Hoffman’s desire to have the State
prove its case was not a principled stand against accepting a plea agreement,” but
“a misunderstanding of aiding and abetting liability led him to believe that the State
was not likely to prove a first-degree murder charge against him.”
1. Because the Ninth Circuit did not require Hoffman to prove Wellman’s
recommendation constituted “gross error” and mandated Wellman “be prescient
about the direction the law will take,” did the Ninth Circuit err by rejecting this
Court’s prohibition regarding the use of hindsight to conclude Hoffman established
2. Because Hoffman failed to allege he would have accepted the state’s plea offer
but for Wellman’s advice and the Ninth Circuit determined Hoffman’s decision to
reject the offer was not a “principled stand,” did the Ninth Circuit err by concluding
Hoffman established prejudice?