Constitutional Law

Lawyer with little experience can't withdraw at 11th hour from death-penalty defense, judge says


Gerald Bettman runs a two-attorney law office in Jacksonville, Fla. In addition to criminal defense, the lawyers also focus on divorce and personal injury matters.

He has never represented a defendant sentenced to the death penalty during the flurry of appeals that precedes a scheduled execution once the death warrant is signed.

But he’s going to now, the Palm Beach Post reports.

Bettman, who has served as the pro bono counsel to William Van Poyck since about 1995, sought to withdraw from the representation of the 58-year-old convicted murderer, citing his own inexperience and lack of resources. However, his request was denied Wednesday morning by a judge who said Bettman waited too long before filing the motion.

“I’ve got to figure all this out, and I don’t even know the routes,” the attorney told the newspaper. He plans to start by asking the state supreme court to overturn Wednesday’s ruling that he must stay on the Palm Beach County case.

Bettman said he doubts whether anyone can now derail Van Poyck’s scheduled June 12 execution for the 1987 murder of a prison guard during a visit to a doctor’s office.

He does think, though, that his client would have gotten a life prison term rather than the ultimate punishment if he had better trial and appellate representation.

An earlier Palm Beach Post article provides further details.

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