Criminal Defense Wins One, Loses One In High Court


The Supreme Court said yesterday that faced with overwhelming evidence that a client is guilty of capital murder, a defense lawyer can concede guilt in open court, even if the client has not authorized such a strategy, to preserve some credibility with the jury that will decide whether to impose a death sentence, the New York Times reports. The 8-to-0 decision, overturned a Florida Supreme Court decision that a lawyer who concedes a defendant’s guilt in the absence of explicit authorization, has deprived the client of the effective assistance of counsel. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, ill with thyroid cancer, did not take part in the case. Rehnquist planned to administer the oath of office at President Bush’s second inauguration, on Jan. 20, but it is not clear whether he will be back in court in time for the next argument session, which begins Jan. 10.

The court also issued a ruling in a case questioning whether an arrest for which a police officer gives an improper reason is invalid, even if there are justifiable reasons for the arrest. In a unanimous opinion overturning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a Washington State case, Justice Antonin Scalia said an arresting officer’s subjective state of mind is irrelevant. “Whether probable cause exists depends upon the reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the facts known to the arresting officer at the time of the arrest,” he said; there is no requirement that a valid reason be “closely related” to the stated reason.


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