Sixth Amendment bars lawyer from overriding client's decision to contest guilt, ABA brief says

  • Print.


A lawyer’s decision to concede guilt at trial over his client’s express objection violated the client’s Sixth Amendment rights, the ABA says in an amicus brief filed Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ABA submitted the brief in the case of Robert Leroy McCoy, according to a press release. Conceding guilt violated McCoy’s Sixth Amendment rights as well as longstanding policies of the ABA and the Louisiana State Bar Association, the brief (PDF) says.

McCoy was sentenced to death in January 2012 for the May 2008 murders of the son, mother and stepfather of his estranged wife. McCoy’s court-appointed lawyer, Larry English, had believed he could not win the case and McCoy’s best strategy to avoid the death penalty would be to concede guilt at trial.

McCoy had strenuously objected to the plan and sought a new lawyer, but the trial judge determined the request came too late. At trial, “McCoy attempted to advance his innocence claim, but was ignored and contradicted by his lawyer from the outset of the trial to its end,” the brief says.

“A mentally competent client has the right to decide whether to contest or admit guilt,” the brief says. “Mr. English’s usurpation of Mr. McCoy’s clearly-expressed decision to contest guilt at trial, however well intended, violated the principles underlying the proper role of counsel in an attorney-client relationship as laid out in the Constitution and the rules, guidelines, and standards of the ABA and the Louisiana State Bar Association.”

The case is McCoy v. Louisiana.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.