Supreme Court says lawyers must do competent job handling plea bargains. “Isn’t that obvious?” asks every competent defense attorney.

These law books are no substitute for zealous advocacy.

Supreme Court says lawyers must do competent job handling plea bargains. “Isn’t that obvious?” asks every competent defense attorney.

I am at once astounded and disgusted that this issue even had to go to SCOTUS.

“The decisions laid out by Kennedy means that criminal defense lawyers are now required to inform their clients of plea bargain offers, regardless of whether they think the client should accept them, and must give their clients good advice on whether to accept a plea bargain at all stages of prosecution. If they don’t, Kennedy said, they will run afoul of the Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel during criminal proceedings. ‘The right to counsel is the right to effective assistance of counsel,’ Kennedy said.”

No shit. It’s my duty to inform my client of any offer that a DA presents to me. And after I tell my client of any offer, I advise my client whether I think we should tell the DA to shove it.

But this case displays some incompetent, astounding behavior by “defense counsel”:

In the cases before the court, Galin Edward Frye was never told by his lawyer about plea bargain offers from Missouri before he pleaded guilty to driving with a revoked license before his trial. In the second case, Anthony Cooper rejected a plea offer on the advice of his lawyer, and then was convicted of assault with intent to murder and other charges and sentenced after a jury trial in Michigan.

This lawyer should lose his license.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the court, held “defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused… When the defense counsel [allows an] offer to expire without advising the defendant or allowing him to consider it, defense counsel did not render the effective assistance the Constitution requires.”

Any attorney who doesn’t advise his client of offers should be stripped of the privilege of representing people.

The ethical rules in Pennsylvania require that we keep our clients reasonably informed about case developments.

Under Pa Ethics Rule 1.4 – Communication:

(a) A lawyer shall:

(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), is required by these Rules;

(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;

(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;

(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and

(5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

Methinks that when one’s liberty hangs in the balance, any decent, ethical lawyer would inform his client of all potential avenues to resolve a matter. It astounds me that we, who are sworn to zealously advocate for our clients, would need the United States Supreme Court to remind us of our duties.

I’m frankly disgusted that any attorney would NOT convey offers to a client, no matter how pugnacious or offensive the offer might be.

We’re fiduciaries. We have an obligation to our clients. Shame on any attorney who’d reject an offer outright without first consulting the person they’ve sworn to protect and defend.

I am glad the Philadelphia Defenders Association taught me better.

One Response to Supreme Court says lawyers must do competent job handling plea bargains. “Isn’t that obvious?” asks every competent defense attorney.

  1. […] from twitter and general web traffic.  Take this piece from Leo about the requirement that lawyers must be competent in handling plea deals: “The decisions laid out by Kennedy means that criminal defense lawyers are now required to […]

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