Detective Posing as Inmate's Attorney Interfered with Right to Counsel, Required Conviction Reversal

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When John Edward Dawson told his lawyer in a state court burglary and drug case that he was also being represented by a federal defender, she thought he was delusional and requested a psychiatric evaluation.

But it was, in fact, true that someone pretending to be a federal defender had been talking with Dawson about his case and purporting to represent him, the Wisconsin Law Journal reports. That someone was a detective with the Monroe County sheriff’s department, in Tennessee.

Now a state appeals court has reversed Dawson’s conviction, calling the misrepresentation—which involved the use of fake law firm letterhead and the cooperation of Dawson’s cellmate—“so egregious that it simply cannot go unchecked,” as well as “abhorrent” and “completely reprehensible.”

While Dawson thought he was being represented by the detective and telling his “defender” confidential information about his case, he was effectively prevented from being represented by a real lawyer, says the court in its written opinion (PDF).

When asked, prior to trial, to give his account of what had happened, the detective took the Fifth, but apparently hasn’t been investigated or punished by the sheriff’s department, according to the opinion.

The appeals court agreed with the defendant that the deception contravened his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and was also a due process violation.

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