Nix v. Whiteside

475 U.S. 157 (1986)


Whiteside (D) and two others went to one Calvin Love's apartment seeking marijuana. An argument between D and Love over the marihuana ensued. Love directed his girlfriend to get his 'piece,' and at another point got up, then returned to his bed. Love then started to reach under his pillow and moved toward D. D stabbed Love in the chest, inflicting a fatal wound. D was charged with murder. Robinson was eventually appointed as his attorney and immediately began an investigation. D gave him a statement that he had stabbed Love as the latter 'was pulling a pistol from underneath the pillow on the bed.' D indicated that he had not actually seen a gun, but that he was convinced that Love had a gun. No pistol was found on the premises. Robinson interviewed D's companions who were present during the stabbing, and none had seen a gun during the incident. Robinson advised D that the existence of a gun was not necessary to establish the claim of self-defense and that only a reasonable belief that the victim had a gun nearby was necessary even though no gun was actually present. About a week before trial, during preparation for direct examination, D for the first time told Robinson that he had seen something 'metallic' in Love's hand. D told Robinson, 'In Howard Cook's case there was a gun. If I don't say I saw a gun, I'm dead.' Robinson told D that such testimony would be perjury and repeated that it was not necessary to prove that a gun was available but only that D reasonably believed that he was in danger. D insisted on telling his new story. Robinson told him that if he did that it would be his duty to advise the Court of what he was doing and that I felt he was committing perjury. Robinson also indicated he would seek to withdraw from the representation if D insisted on committing perjury. D did not tell his new story. Robinson presented evidence that Love had been seen with a sawed-off shotgun on other occasions, that the police search of the apartment may have been careless, and that the victim's family had removed everything from the apartment shortly after the crime. D was convicted and moved for a new trial, claiming that he had been deprived of a fair trial by Robinson's admonitions not to state that he saw a gun or 'something metallic.' The court denied the motion. The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed respondent's conviction. That court held that the right to have counsel present all appropriate defenses does not extend to using perjury and that an attorney's duty to a client does not extend to assisting a client in committing perjury. Relying on DR 7-102(A)(4) of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers, which expressly prohibits an attorney from using perjured testimony, and Iowa Code § 721.2 (now Iowa Code § 720.3 (1985)), which criminalizes subornation of perjury, the Iowa court concluded that not only were Robinson's actions permissible but were required. The court commended 'both Mr. Robinson and Ms. Paulsen for the high ethical manner in which this matter was handled.' D then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. D alleged that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel and of his right to present a defense by Robinson's refusal to allow him to testify as he had proposed. The District Court denied the writ. Accepting the state trial court's factual finding that Whiteside's intended testimony would have been perjurious, it concluded that there could be no grounds for habeas relief since there is no constitutional right to present a perjured defense. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and directed that the writ of habeas corpus be granted. Robinson's admonition to D that he would inform the court of D's perjury constituted a threat to violate the attorney's duty to preserve client confidences. This breached the standards of effective representation set down in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The Supreme Court granted certiorari.