The Associated Press reports the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a criminal defense lawyer cannot override his client’s wish to plead innocent, even if the purpose is to avoid the death sentence for his client.
Justices voted in favor 6-3 of Louisiana death row inmate Robert McCoy. McCoy objected to his lawyer acknowledging he killed the son, mother and step-father of his estranged wife in 2008 on multiple occasions.
The lawyer, Larry English, claims the evidence of McCoy’s guilt was overwhelming, and he was attempting to avoid a death sentence for his client.
Regardless, McCoy was sentenced to death by a jury.
This issue is not common in capital cases, but does happen. Juries typically decide guilt and sentences separately. In this case, defense attorneys are trying to avoid the death sentence. Louisiana’s Supreme Court allowed English to concede McCoy’s guilt in spite of his objections.
Justice Ruth Bade Ginsburg wrote the court’s decision, stating that McCoy needs to be granted a new trial. Her opinion stated that some decisions, such as assertion of innocence, should be reserved for the client.
The judges that dissented the court’s opinion stated that English may have admitted McCoy killed the victims, but did not concede that he committed first-degree murder.
The evidence against McCoy was overwhelming. This included a gun found in his car that matched the casings found at the scene.
McCoy testified at his trial, suggesting that law enforcement framed him through a drug trafficking ring.
English argued against McCoy receiving the death penalty because he did not intend the kill the victims. In his opening arguments, he stated that McCoy “committed these crimes,” against McCoy’s wishes.
*Photo credit AP/Jacquelyn Martin