Logourl black
From our private database of 14,000+ case briefs...

Cuyler v. Sullivan

United States Supreme Court
 446 U.S. 335 (1980)


John Sullivan (defendant) was indicted along with two other defendants for murder. The defendants were all represented by the same lawyers. Neither Sullivan nor his lawyers objected to the multiple representation. Sullivan was the first defendant tried. After the prosecution’s case, the defense rested without presenting any evidence. Sullivan was convicted and sentenced to life while the other two defendants were acquitted. Sullivan filed a petition for collateral relief and argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his lawyers’ representation of the other two defendants created a conflict of interest. One lawyer stated that he had encouraged Sullivan to testify, while the other lawyer stated that he did not want Sullivan’s defense to go on because it might have affected the other two defendants’ upcoming trials. Sullivan claimed he deferred to his lawyers’ advice, but there was evidence that he chose not to testify to avoid exposing an affair. The lower court made no decision on the conflict of interest claim, but found that Sullivan was adequately advised about not testifying. All other claims for relief were denied. The state supreme court affirmed Sullivan’s conviction and the denial of relief. Sullivan filed for a writ of habeas corpus and his petition was referred to a magistrate. The magistrate found that Sullivan’s lawyers had a conflict of interest, but the federal district court found that there had been no multiple representation. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari. 

Rule of Law

The rule of law is the black letter law upon which the court rested its decision.

To access this section, please start your free trial or log in.


The issue section includes the dispositive legal issue in the case phrased as a question.

To access this section, please start your free trial or log in.

Holding and Reasoning (Powell, J.)

The holding and reasoning section includes:

  • A "yes" or "no" answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

To access this section, please start your free trial or log in.

Dissent (Marshall, J)

The dissent section is for members only and includes a summary of the dissenting judge or justice’s opinion.

To access this section, please start your free trial or log in.

What to do next…

  1. Unlock this case brief with a free (no-commitment) trial membership of Quimbee.

    You’ll be in good company: Quimbee is one of the most widely used and trusted sites for law students, serving more than 97,000 law students since 2011. Some law schools—such as Yale, Vanderbilt, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois—even subscribe directly to Quimbee for all their law students. Read our student testimonials.

  2. Learn more about Quimbee’s unique (and proven) approach to achieving great grades at law school.

    Quimbee is a company hell-bent on one thing: helping you get an “A” in every course you take in law school, so you can graduate at the top of your class and get a high-paying law job. We’re not just a study aid for law students; we’re the study aid for law students. Read more about Quimbee.

Here's why 200,000 law students have relied on our case briefs:

  • Written by law professors and practitioners, not other law students. 14,000 briefs, keyed to 188 casebooks. Top-notch customer support.
  • The right amount of information, includes the facts, issues, rule of law, holding and reasoning, and any concurrences and dissents.
  • Access in your classes, works on your mobile and tablet. Massive library of related video lessons and high quality multiple-choice questions.
  • Easy to use, uniform format for every case brief. Written in plain English, not in legalese. Our briefs summarize and simplify; they don’t just repeat the court’s language.