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Client’s wish for death penalty doesn’t justify defense lawyer’s withdrawal, Fla. supreme court says

Posted Jul 14, 2014 8:21 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The Florida Supreme Court has refused a defense lawyer’s request to withdraw from the appeals of a client who wants to argue in favor of his death sentence.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 opinion (PDF) last Thursday, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

Lawyer Steven Bolotin had maintained he was ethically obligated to abide by the wishes of his client, convicted murderer James Robertson.

But the Florida Supreme Court majority said Bolotin should continue to represent Robertson during mandatory direct appeals. Florida Supreme Court review of death sentences is automatic and doesn’t depend on the defendant’s acquiescence, the court said.

Robertson can seek leave to file a supplemental brief explaining his own positions and interests, the court said.

In a concurrence, Justice Barbara Pariente argued that ABA standards consider a lawyer’s acquiescence in a client’s desire to be executed to be ineffective assistance. “In other words,” she wrote, “not only does the client have no right to commit state-assisted suicide, but it is actually ineffective—and therefore unethical—conduct for an attorney to accede to this request.” Her opinion was joined by two other justices.

The dissenters argued that the majority infringes on Robertson’s right to decide whether to appeal his death sentence and his right to a lawyer who will abide by his decision regarding the objectives of representation.

“An automatic appeal is not equivalent to a nonwaivable appeal,” the dissent argued.

The dissent said the case should be remanded to the trial court for a determination whether Robertson made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his right of appeal.

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