Sunday, November 19, 2017
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McCoy v. Louisiana


Source: The Guardian

McCoy v. Louisiana is a currently undecided case in front of the United States Supreme Court. According to Oyez, the facts of the case are that:

“McCoy [the defendant] subsequently found new counsel to represent him, and his counsel advised him to take a plea. When McCoy refused to take a plea, his counsel notified him that he intended to concede guilt, after which time McCoy moved to discharge him. The court denied McCoy’s motion to discharge his attorney as untimely. His counsel proceeded to concede McCoy’s guilt [of homicide] and argued for verdicts of second-degree murder on a theory of diminished capacity. The jury returned a verdict of first-degree murder on all three counts and recommended the death penalty.”

The question, therefore, is if McCoy’s counsel deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to assistance from counsel by his counsel’s concession of guilt over his client’s express objection.

Strickland v. Washington (1984) was the first establishment of a standard for counsel. It stated that:

  1. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel, and the benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel’s conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result. The same principle applies to a capital sentencing proceeding — such as the one provided by Florida law — that is sufficiently like a trial in its adversarial format and in the existence of standards for decision that counsel’s role in the proceeding is comparable to counsel’s role at trial.
  2. A convicted defendant’s claim that counsel’s assistance was so defective as to require reversal of a conviction or setting aside of a death sentence requires that the defendant show, first, that counsel’s performance was deficient and, second, that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense so as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial.

(a) The proper standard for judging attorney performance is that of reasonably effective assistance, considering all the circumstances. When a convicted defendant complains of the ineffectiveness of counsel’s assistance, the defendant must show that counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Judicial scrutiny of counsel’s performance must be highly deferential, and a fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel’s challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel’s perspective at the time. A court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. These standards require no special amplification in order to define counsel’s duty to investigate, the duty at issue in this case.

(b) With regard to the required showing of prejudice, the proper standard requires the defendant to show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. A court hearing an ineffectiveness claim must consider the totality of the evidence before the judge or jury.”

This standard will be applied in answering the question of if the defendant was granted ineffective counsel. In looking at holding 2b, errors are noted to be ‘unprofessional’, implying a transgression of an ethical code. According to Rule 1.2 of the American Bar Association Rules of Professional Conduct, “a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued. A lawyer may take such action on behalf of the client as is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation.” McCoy’s clear intention for the objective of the case was acquittal, not a plea, while the public defender effectively argued for a plea bargain, conceding guilt and wanting a lesser sentence. Therefore, it was unprofessional, and fell below the ‘objective standard of reasonableness’. As to the standard of needing a displaying of reasonable probability of a different outcome, the outcome would have been different. Because his attorney’s action may have impeded the jury from making a just decision, as his misstep was so large, the justness of the decision can come into scrutiny, as the outcome, given a defense centered around acquittal, may have been effective.

Therefore, the standard in holding 2 is met, effectuating an ineffective counsel. Furthermore, due to its meeting, McCoy’s death sentence should be set aside, and if extreme egregiousness of ineffectiveness is found, conviction should be reversed.

Sources:

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_1_2_scope_of_representation_allocation_of_authority_between_client_lawyer.html

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/466/668/#annotation

https://www.oyez.org/cases/2017/16-8255