Sixth Amendment

Late Lawyer Not Ineffective

A lawyer who returns to a trial 20 minutes late from a lunch break does not necessarily provide ineffective assistance of counsel, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The defendant, an alleged cigarette smuggler, contended his lawyer was absent during a critical stage of the trial, which amounted to ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth Amendment, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog. He said the lawyer was absent for 20 minutes, although it was not noted in the trial record. (A police officer recalled an absence of only a couple minutes on one unspecified occasion.)

Lawyer Matthew Pynn said in an affidavit that he did confuse a judge’s admonition to return from lunch by “quarter to two.”

“I mistakenly had quarter after two, or 2:15 p.m. in my mind,” he said. “I appeared in the courtroom slightly prior to 2:15 p.m to realize that the trial was in progress.”

A 20-minute absence is “certainly unprofessional and likely objectively unreasonable,” but not per se unconstitutional, according to the opinion by the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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