Lawyers are supposed to help guide their clients to find the best solution to their legal problems, but what if a defendant in a trial doesn’t agree with his attorney’s advice? Can the lawyer ignore his client’s wishes if he believes it is still in their best interest? That issue is at the very heart of a recent Supreme Court case and most San Diego criminal lawyers believe the outcome is going to play an important role in defining the limits of the attorney/client relationship.
The case in front of the court centers around Robert McCoy, who was accused of a triple homicide in 2011. While McCoy maintains his innocence to this day, there was ample evidence indicating his guilt -enough evidence that his attorney believed his only chance to avoid the death penalty was to admit guilt. Despite McCoy’s objections, the lawyer told the court that his defendant was both “crazy” and guilty. McCoy tried to tell the judge that he felt this was unconstitutional, but the judge disagreed and McCoy was eventually found guilty and sentenced to death.
Now McCoy is challenging the ruling, appealing on the grounds that by letting an attorney decide whether or not a client will admit guilt, that defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights are being violated. Louisiana’s Supreme Court upheld the decision based on the fact that in 2004, the US Supreme Court ruled that a lawyer could plead guilty in a murder case despite his client’s objections if they believe they are acting in their client’s best interest and the defendant is unresponsive. But in that case, the defendant did not give explicit consent to the attorney, while in this case, McCoy vocally expressed that he did not want to admit his guilt.
Despite the court’s previous ruling in 2004, the Justices have so far seemed skeptical of McCoy’s lawyer. In fact, most criminal attorneys in San Diego believe they will rule in favor of the McCoy -although if he gets a retrial, they also agree he will most likely still be found guilty. While the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to legal counsel, it also guarantees the right to stand in front of a court and plea innocent or guilty -and a lawyer shouldn’t be able to take away that right, even if he believes he is acting in his client’s best interest.
This case is a good example of why it is so important you and your San Diego criminal lawyer have a mutual understanding of your goals and expectations. You may be able to fire an attorney who doesn’t listen to your desires later on, but it is always better to be on the same page from the beginning.
San Diego criminal attorney Peter M. Liss always listens to and respect his client’s wishes while simultaneously working with them to get the best possible outcome for their cases. If you have been accused of a crime, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Creative Commons image by Matt Wade