Recently in Counsel Category
In 1996, Congress decided that the opinion of the lower federal courts on disputed questions of federal law was really not more reliable than the opinions of the state courts. Too many correct judgments were being wrongly overturned, and the Supreme Court could not correct all the errors. Yet Congress was not willing to let go of the safety valve of federal habeas corpus review of state convictions altogether. The compromise was that federal courts could overturn a state conviction based on a claim rejected on the merits by the state courts if the state court decision was clearly wrong, beyond the bounds of reasonable disagreement. If the issue is arguable, the state court decision stands.
Many federal judges are unwilling to let go of their prerogative to substitute their opinions for those of state judges on close questions, and they regularly violate the law governing the limits of their authority in order to "correct" what they see as violations of other rules of law. The highest-profile incidents tend to be in capital cases, but it occurs in noncapital cases as well, and that brings us to today's Supreme Court decision in Woods v. Etherton, No. 15-723.
A federal statute provides that a court may freeze before trial certain assets belonging to a criminal defendant accused of violations of federal health care or banking laws. See 18 U. S. C. §1345. Those assets include: (1) property "obtained as a result of " the crime, (2) property "traceable" to the crime, and (3) other "property of equivalent value." §1345(a)(2). In this case, the Government has obtained a court order that freezes assets belonging to the third category of property, namely, property that is untainted by the crime, and that belongs fully to the defendant. That order, the defendant says, prevents her from paying her lawyer. She claims that insofar as it does so, it violates her Sixth Amendment "right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for [her] defence." We agree.Justice Thomas concurred in this result, making the decision 5-3.
The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Simels' 2009 convictions on attempted obstruction of justice and bribery, and the 14-year-prison sentence given to him by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, but vacated his conviction on two counts relating to importation and possession of electronic surveillance equipment.
Simels' lawyers didn't respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said they were still reviewing the decision and would not comment.
Simels...was convicted in connection with an attempt to tamper with a witness against his client Shaheed Khan, a cocaine trafficker from Guyana who ultimately pleaded guilty to charges in the U.S. Prosecutors in Brooklyn made a case against Simels, who was retained by Khan for $1.4 million, in part with help from a federal informant connected to the drug trafficker, who taped meetings with the attorney.
There are two points to be remembered from this story. One is the criminal defense bar is not the uniformly pristine, Knight-on-a-White-Horse, Constitution-shielding sentinel its PR machine portrays. There are bad actors among defense lawyers, just as there are among Brady-hiding prosecutors and gun-happy cops. Every profession has its bad apples, and defense lawyers, notwithstanding their gentle treatment in the press, are right in there with everyone else. It's just more popular, and politically more rewarding, to bash cops and prosecutors, which is why it gets done more often and more loudly. By contrast, no one ever got a piece in Salon, or tenure for that matter, doing a dissertation about the wonderfulness of cops.
The second point is this Simels story, like the Mike Nifong story, is easy to bullhorn all over town to drive whatever one's agenda might be. If you take the worst one-half of one percent of ANY profession's behavior and repeat it in 30 blogs, 10 op-ed's and 5 network broadcasts, you can make that profession out to be a cesspool. It's my impression that Radley Balko does exactly that in his obsession with the police.
But it's cheap and misleading. If you want to know what defense lawyers, prosecutors and cops act like, it's easy to find out: Go to your local court and sit there for a week watching random cases.
It's possible you'll see people who left good faith far behind, and put out every slick argument they think they might get away with. But I doubt it. I suspect you'll see what I did for about 20 years -- able and almost always honest advocacy. Counsel see cases from different angles, sure; our system is designed so that they will. But only through a dark, tiny and distorted lens will you see any segment of the legal profession in the light in which Mr. Balko, for example, presents the police.
I am not an optimist by nature, but I can tell you from long experience in litigation that the grim picture of competing thugs and cheaters we see painted in so many places simply is not true.
Find out for yourself -- visit that courtroom.
The second [client] also knew Benavides from a previous relationship, said the affidavit. During one of her court cases, Benavides approached her and said he knew the judge and could get her an attorney's bond and a fair deal. She hired him, and after she bonded out of jail, Benavides asked her to meet him at a friend's office. Whenever they met there, they would have sex. Once, they had sex in a jury room in the courthouse.
Holiday [the petitioner] was convicted of intentionally setting fire to his wife's home near College Station in September 2000, killing her three little girls. He forced the children's grandmother to douse the home in gasoline. After igniting the fumes, Holiday watched from outside as flames engulfed the couch where authorities later found the corpses of 7-year-old Tierra Lynch, 5-year-old Jasmine DuPaul and 1-year-old Justice Holiday huddled together. Volberding and Kretzer were appointed in February 2011 to represent Holiday in his federal appeals. They filed a 286-page petition in federal court, alleging dozens of mistakes in Holiday's case, ranging from assertions that he was intellectually disabled to charges that clemency is so rarely granted in Texas that the process has become meaningless....
The standard was set in the landmark case of Strickland v. Washington (1984), a case won by my good friend Carolyn Snurkowski of the Florida AG's Office. As summarized by the Supreme Court today in Maryland v. Kulbicki, "Counsel is unconstitutionally ineffective if his performance is both deficient,meaning his errors are 'so serious' that he no longer functions as 'counsel,' and prejudicial, meaning his errors deprive the defendant of a fair trial."
No longer functioning as counsel is a very low standard, a performance so dismal that very few such claims should be granted, and the bar should proceed to revoke the license or at least impose some discipline on any lawyer who actually botches a client's case that badly. That is how it was intended, but that is not how it is applied in practice. Instead, courts often use ineffectiveness claims as ways to overturn verdicts they feel uncomfortable about, even though the lawyer actually did a decent job.
Today in Kulbicki, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a decision of the highest court of Maryland in severe terms. "Applying this standard in name only, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that James Kulbicki's defense attorneys were unconstitutionally ineffective. We summarily reverse."
A Georgia woman who was executed despite a plea for mercy from Pope Francis sang "Amazing Grace" until as she was given a lethal injection, witnesses said.
Kelly Renee Gissendaner was put to death at 12:21 a.m. Wednesday after a flurry of last-minute appeals failed.
Gissendaner, who was sentenced to death for the 1997 stabbing murder of her husband at the hands of her lover, sobbed as she called the victim an "amazing man who died because of me."
Particularly noteworthy was this paragraph later in the article:
In the hours before her death, Gissendaner pressed a number of appeals, arguing that it was not fair she got death while the lover who killed her husband got a life sentence. She also said the execution drugs might be defective, and that she had turned her life around and found religion while in prison.
I must be missing the argument there that could not have been made many years before last night. It strikes me that the time has long since come to sanction lawyers who intentionally clog the courts and make a spectacle of legal process by bad faith, last-minute, kitchen-sink appeals.
Washington, DC (Sept. 9, 2015) - After over 18 months of study, more than 130 individuals interviewed (including federal judges, federal defenders, Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel attorneys, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) personnel, and others, representing 49 states and all federal judicial circuits), hundreds of documents reviewed, and surveys conducted, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) today officially releases a major report -- Federal Indigent Defense 2015: The Independence Imperative. The report, adopted by NACDL's Board of Directors at its recent annual meeting, reflects the significant work of NACDL's Task Force on Federal Indigent Defense and offers "Seven Fundamentals of a Robust Federal Indigent Defense System," which are set forth below.
[Defense attorney Chuck] Banks asked the court to show mercy on Shoffner, saying she "made a terrible, terrible error in judgment" and characterizing her as "gullible" and "clueless." He said that she was inclined to accept the bribes from Stephens in large part because she was in a bad financial situation, having underestimated the cost of commuting on a regular basis between Newport and Little Rock.
Banks asked Holmes to consider Shoffner's "good deeds," including her work for the Humane Society. He presented the court with a picture of her dog, Fred, and said he was moved by the fact that after Shoffner was first arrested, she asked Banks to call her sister to check on Fred.
I practiced in federal court for many years, and it never occurred to me that I could advance the ball by citing anyone's dog. For that matter, it still hasn't.
"He is dumbfounded that his action is being characterized as terrorism," said [Ms.] David, a lawyer in Arras, where the train was rerouted to arrest El-Khazzani -- now being questioned outside Paris by anti-terrorism police.
He described himself as homeless and David said she had "no doubt" this was true, saying he was "very, very thin" as if suffering from malnutrition and "with a very wild look in his eyes."
But wait, there's more.
Texas inmate Daniel Lee Lopez got his wish Wednesday when he was executed for striking and killing a police lieutenant with an SUV during a chase more than six years ago.
The lethal injection was carried out after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from his attorneys who disregarded both his desire to die and lower court rulings that Lopez was competent to make that decision.
In April, the Fifth Circuit noted, while dismissing the appeal:
Lopez is as resolute that Texas should carry out his capital sentence as he is that no counsel deprive him of that choice. The district court, after ascertaining competency, nonetheless granted Lopez's "motion to dismiss counsel, effective on the conclusion of any appeal." (Emphasis added). This court does not address, because the State did not raise, the appropriateness of our considering this appeal by counsel who were appointed for petitioner by the district court against his will, and who have filed this appeal despite his wishes and despite the court's resolution of the Rees v. Payton, 384 U.S. 312 (1966) issue. Cf. Sanchez-Velasco v. Sec. of the Dept. of Corrections, 287 F.3d 1015 (11th Cir. 2002).
The general rule is that the client sets the goals of representation and the lawyer makes the tactical decisions on how to achieve them. Can a lawyer ethically decide on his own that the client is mentally incompetent and take it upon himself to set the goals of representation? I don't think so, but it's an issue that needs to be settled.
I also do not think that the court can pass on the issue merely because the state did not raise it. Does a court have jurisdiction to overturn, or even stay, a judgment that neither party to the original case wants disturbed? No one else has standing, the Supreme Court has said, and standing is a jurisdictional requirement.
It seems to me that unless and until a court has determined that the inmate is mentally incapable of making the decisions that belong to the client in the attorney-client relationship, and appointed someone to make them on his behalf, nobody including the lawyer can legally take it upon himself to make those decisions.
An Ad Hoc Committee to conduct a comprehensive and impartial review of the administration and operation of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) has begun accepting public comments at the following address: CJAStudy@ao.uscourts.gov. It also is anticipated that in the course of its work the committee will hold public hearings.My own view is that those who undertake CJA defense are, on the whole, quite good, and earn all they get if not more. I also think, however, that if we can afford more for the defense of criminals, we can afford more to keep them, after conviction, incarcerated and away from the public.
The CJA was enacted to create a system for providing defense services to financially eligible federal criminal defendants. It became effective fifty years ago this year. Judicial Conference policy supports a periodic, comprehensive, and impartial review of the CJA program.
The constant refrain that "we just don't have the money for prison" is tripe. The BOP budget, like every aspect of the federal government's budget, is less a description of fiscal reality than of political priorities. If this Administration wanted to shift its priorities toward keeping the crime rate low (rather than, for example, funding its gargantuan clemency initiative), it could easily do so. And should.
I mused in this post a couple of weeks ago when Tsarnaev was first captured that "as in the case of the Unibomber and the Tucson shooter and other notorious federal mass murderers, I would not be surprised if eventually capital charges are taken off the table for a guaranteed LWOP sentence in exchange for a guilty plea." The appointment of Clarke prompts me to now turn my musings into a prediction: I think the odds are now pretty good that, after a fair bit of (costly?) legal wranging over the next few months or years, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will plead guilty and get sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.