For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Bob Cooper
Date: November 5, 2007
U.S. Supreme Court Will Consider Maxwell Hoffman Case
(Boise) – The United States Supreme Court today granted the State of Idaho’s request to review a Ninth Circuit of Appeals decision ordering the state to release convicted murderer Maxwell Hoffman or offer Hoffman a plea agreement that he rejected more than 18 years ago.
The Ninth Circuit held that Hoffman’s trial attorney was ineffective when he recommended his client reject a plea offer that would have spared Hoffman the death penalty because his trial attorney’s recommendation was allegedly based upon “incomplete research” and ignored the risks associated with imposition of the death penalty if the plea offer was rejected.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to hear this case is important beyond the Hoffman case,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said. “The Ninth Circuit’s decision adopted a standard of law that is not supported by United States Supreme Court precedent or the court of any other jurisdiction in the country. The Supreme Court, in deciding the Hoffman case, will clarify the legal standards for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.”
Hoffman was convicted of first degree murder and commission of a felony by use of a deadly weapon for the September 19, 1987, murder of Denise Williams in Owyhee County. A Canyon County jury returned the guilty verdicts on March 16, 1989. On June 13, 1989, he was sentenced to death.
The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed Hoffman’s conviction and sentence on January 29, 1993, and dismissed the appeal challenging the dismissal of his successive petition for post conviction relief on December 6, 1996.
Hoffman also sought relief in the federal courts. On December 28, 1998, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill denied Hoffman’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus and lifted a stay of execution. Hoffman appealed Judge Winmill’s decision.
On July 5, 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Winmill. The Ninth Circuit held that Hoffman’s defense attorney had provided ineffective assistance of counsel by recommending that Hoffman reject the state’s plea offer. The court concluded that defense counsel’s representation during the plea bargaining stage was deficient because of “incomplete” research and because of the risk associated with rejecting the offer.
The State of Idaho asked the Ninth Circuit to reconsider its decision and suggested a rehearing “en banc,” that is, before a panel of eleven judges. On March 6, 2007, the Ninth Circuit denied the state’s request for rehearing.
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