The People v. David Mendoza


Issue before the Court: Is a lawyer who deliberately concedes his client’s guilt at trial, relying solely on a jury nullification argument, ineffective?


Held: Not on this record.


CAL Observes: In this short opinion, rather than actually deciding the issue, the Court resorted to its familiar “it-could-have-been-strategy” refrain. 


The facts of this case led the members of the Court unanimously to the most boring and unhelpful of all possible outcomes. Those judges in the anti-criminal-defendant majority had no trouble finding the record insufficient. Those in the pro-criminal-defendant minority, who might cheer counsel’s bold arguments that jurors should “join the fight” for his client in this “overcharged” burglary case, would be loathe to officially vote that such a strategy was unreasonable. The result was a short decision affirming the conviction with a footnote reminding the defendant that he could pursue his claim through a 440.


This case (and the other “Mendoza”-related ineffectiveness case decided the same day, see People v. Lopez-Mendoza) highlights the necessity of expanding the record on ineffectiveness claims, even where it seems obvious that the lawyer’s actions (conceding guilt!) could not possibly have been motivated by reasonable strategy.