Challenging Validity of Prior Convictions Based on Denial of Effective Assistance of Counsel

In Garcia v. Superior Court (1997) 14 Cal.4th 953, the California Supreme Court followed the lead of Custis v. United States (1994) 511 U.S. 485 to hold a defendant in a noncapital case may not challenge the validity of a prior conviction on grounds he was denied effective assistance of counsel in the proceeding. (Garcia, at p. 963.) Custis held that "under the applicable federal sentencing statutes, a criminal defendant may challenge the constitutional validity of a prior conviction in a federal sentencing proceeding only on the ground that the defendant was denied his or her fundamental right to be represented by counsel in the prior proceeding in violation of the landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) 372 U.S. 335, 9 L. Ed. 2d 799." (Garcia, 14 Cal.4th at p. 956.) The Garcia court found "of particular relevance" one factor emphasized in Custis that distinguished Gideon error from other constitutional error: that of ease in administration of justice and finality of judgments. (Garcia, at pp. 961-962; see also People v. Allen, supra, 21 Cal.4th at pp. 433-434.) Custis v. United States (1994) 511 U.S. 485 reasoned in part: "Failure to appoint counsel at all will generally appear from the judgment roll itself, or from an accompanying minute order. But determination of claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, and failure to assure that a guilty plea was voluntary, would require sentencing courts to rummage through frequently nonexistent or difficult to obtain state-court transcripts or records that may date from another era, and may come from any one of the 50 States." (Custis, 511 U.S. at p. 496; see Garcia, supra, 14 Cal.4th at p. 962.) The California Supreme Court in Garcia found no basis in the state Constitution to reach an interpretation different from that reached in Custis under the federal Constitution. (Garcia, supra, 14 Cal. 4th at p. 963.) The Garcia court applied reasoning based on policy considerations similar to those applied in Custis: "Such a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel often will necessitate a factual investigation with regard to counsel's actions, omissions, and strategic decisions, requiring the parties and the court to reconstruct events possibly remote in time, and to scour potentially voluminous records, substantially delaying the proceedings related to the current offense." (Garcia, at p. 965.)