Lawyer competence was the big topic yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court, as justices heard two cases involving claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that violated the Sixth Amendment. The National Law Journal says most justices seemed wary of expanding the definition of ineffective assistance to include flawed advice on matters beyond the actual criminal case the lawyer is handling.
In one case, a lawyer’s flawed advice exposed his client to deportation. A lawyer incorrrectly told Jose Padilla, a permanent resident alien arrested for drug trafficking, that pleading guilty would not expose him to deportation. “We have to decide whether we are opening a Pandora’s box here,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, who said flawed advice about the effect of a guilty plea on child custody could be another issue defendants would raise. In the other case, the defense lawyer in a capital case called his client sick and twisted during a closing argument, and minimized mitigating evidence that might have helped avoid the death penalty.