Tag Archives: right to assistance of counsel

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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McCoy v. Louisiana

Today the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Robert LeRoy McCoy, who was convicted of three counts of murder after his lawyer refused to follow his instruction and plead not guilty as he directed. I had predicted that his convictions would be over-ruled; I also wrote,

“If the Supreme Court does anything but overrule Louisiana in this case by a 9-0 vote, I may turn in my law license in exchange for a free Whopper at Burger King.”

Well, the vote wasn’t 9-0. I think instead of turning in my license, I’m going to turn in my respect for the so-called conservative wing of the Court. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Ginsberg, with Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, Roberts, and Kennedy concurring. Two of the conservatives concurred in a dissent authored by Alito: Gorsuch and thomas.

I haven’t had time to read it as carefully as I have to to do a thorough analysis, but I read it well enough to flag it as an embarrassing collection of rationalizations. While the majority opinion interprets a straightforward case according to what is significant about it—a lawyer pleaded guilty for him when his client demanded that he plead non guilty, thus making the conclusion unavoidable, Alito resorts to desperate excuses. Well, this kind of case isn’t likely to happen again. So what? A man was robbed of his Sixth Amendment rights! His story was ridiculous. So what? If that’s his story, he has the right to tell it. The lawyer was placed in a tough situation by a client whose claims were unbelievable. The jury decides who to believe, and a defendant has the right to let them do that. McCoy’s lawyer didn’t believe him. So what? Welcome to criminal defense work. McCoy was going to be convicted anyway.

What????

I can’t believe a Supreme Court Justice is making these arguments. So what? The principle of the rule of law is that it is vital that the defendant, if he is convicted, is convicted the right way, constitutionally. The conduct of McCoy’s lawyer was indefensible under the ethics rules, and the Constitution.

Reading the whole opinion and the dissent is revealing, and not in a good way. The majority opinion shows us that the Supreme Court can’t say the sky is blue without making the case in the mots turgid way possible. This opinion should have been a few pages at most.

The dissent lets us know that Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas look for minuscule fragments of justifications to avoid doing the right thing.

 

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Dunces, Law & Law Enforcement

Wait, WHAT? I Don’t Understand This Case At All: The Louisiana Lawyer’s Betrayal

Robert McCoy (above), facing trial for a triple murder in Louisiana, told his lawyer, Larry English, that he was innocent. Someone else had killed the victims, he insisted. English, however, knew better. He wasn’t buying any of it.

“I met with Robert at the courthouse and explained to him that I intended to concede that he had killed the three victims,” Mr. English stated in a sworn statement. “Robert was furious and it was a very intense meeting. He told me not to make that concession, but I told him that I was going to do so….I know that Robert was completely opposed to me telling the jury that he was guilty of killing the three victims,” Mr. English said. “But I believed that this was the only way to save his life.”

English’s theory was that in the state’s two-phase trail system, he would lose credibility with the jury if he insisted McCoy was wrongly charged in the face of overwhelming evidence He wanted to have the trust of the jurors in the second phase, when he would have to argue that they should spare Mr. McCoy’s life.

After the meeting, Mr. McCoy tried to fire his lawyer, saying he would rather represent himself—So would I— but Judge Jeff Cox refused to let English off the case. So, as promised, English told the jury during his opening statement that his client was a triple murderer. McCoy objected in court, protesting, “I did not murder my family, your honor ! I had alibis of me being out of state. Your honor, this is unconstitutional for you to keep an attorney on my case when this attorney is completely selling me out.”

The objection was over-ruled.  McCoy’s lawyer, the judge apparently believed, knew better than his client what his client’s best interests were.

He didn’t though. McCoy was convicted and sentenced to death despite all of that supposed good will, credibility and trust English had built up by throwing his own client under the criminal justice bus.  The victim of this Bizarro World representation appealed the conviction to the Louisiana Supreme Court, saying his lawyer had turned on him. The court ruled against him,  holding that

“Given the circumstances of this crime and the overwhelming evidence incriminating the defendant admitting guilt in an attempt to avoid the imposition of the death penalty appears to constitute reasonable trial strategy.”

Now the United States Supreme Court is going to consider the case, McCoy v. Louisiana, and the question of whether a lawyer who disregards a client’s explicit instruction to plead not guilty has breached the Constitutional right to counsel.

I am stunned.  What question? Apparently this is a thing in Louisiana. “Counsel’s strategic choices should not be impeded by a rigid blanket rule demanding the defendant’s consent,” Louisiana’s lawyers  wrote in a brief urging the court to pass on the case. Since 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court has allowed defense lawyers to concede their clients’ guilt in four other capital cases over the clients’ express objections.

Good grief. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights