Friday, January 19, 2018

SCOTUS hears case about unsuccessful defense strategy in capital case

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in McCoy v. Louisiana a capital case, which asks the court whether it is constitutional for defense counsel to concede an accused's guilt over the accused's express objection, reported Jurist. The case arose after McCoy's defense attorney pleaded guilty, despite McCoy's express objection, because he believed it was his ethical duty to save his client's life and conceding guilt would do so. The attorney's strategy failed, however, and McCoy was sentenced to death.
McCoy argues that he has a constitutional right to make certain decisions in his defense, and pleading guilty or not guilt is one of those. Louisiana agrees that a defendant has the right to make some basic decisions, but that conceding guilt to a jury is not one of them.
During the argument, Justice Kagan reframed the issue, stating:
[T]his lawyer was in a terrible position because this lawyer wants to defeat the death penalty. And he has a client who says: That's not my goal here. But the question is when that happens, does the lawyer have to step back and say: You know what? That's not his goal. His goal is to avoid admitting that he killed his family members.
The court's opinion will likely depend on its interpretation of the Sixth Amendment.
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