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Supreme Court to Hear Case of Lawyer Who Defied Client Accused of Murders
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Summary: If a client says he’s not guilty, can a lawyer argue that he is?

In 2011, a Louisiana jury convicted Robert McCoy of murdering three members of his estranged wife’s family. He was sentenced to die, but he would not accept this fate. He said that his lawyer did not give him the defense he had wanted, and his appeals have finally made it to the Supreme Court.


According to NBC News, McCoy said that he had not killed his family, despite the compelling evidence to the contrary. He claimed that he was the victim of a police conspiracy to frame him, and that was the defense he wanted his attorney, Larry English, to give him.

However, English felt that the case was unwinnable, and he decided to go with the strategy to plead guilty and ask for leniency. McCoy refused, and the two parties argued about what to do behind closed doors. McCoy, who was facing the death penalty, asked the judge to fire English, but the judge said it was too late. The case proceeded with English defying his client, and McCoy ended up with a conviction of first-degree murder on three counts.

Six years later, McCoy is still on death row, but he has continued to fight. He stated that his constitutional right to mount his own defense was denied; and on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case.

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It is noted that English’s plan is not uncommon when defense attorneys believe that mercy may be the only chance for a defendant in death row cases. This is especially true when a jury also decides the sentence. According to NBC News, clients typically agree to this plan, but in McCoy’s case, he was adamant that he didn’t do it.

McCoy said during his trial that his lawyer was “selling me out” and violating his constitutional rights. One example of this is when English told the jury, “Mr. McCoy committed these crimes.” He described McCoy, who was accused of shooting his estranged wife’s mother, stepfather, and son in 2008, of being “crazy,” and he asked for a lighter sentence of second-degree murder.

English was hired by McCoy’s parents and was not experienced in trying capital punishment cases. After the verdict was given, English wrote that he was convinced his client was paranoid and delusional.

“I felt that as long as I was his attorney of record it was my ethical duty to do what I thought was best to save his life even though what he wanted me to do was to get him acquitted in the guilt phase,” English said.

McCoy filed an appeal after his conviction, but the Louisiana Supreme Court said that with all the evidence proving his guilt, English’s strategy was “reasonable.” They cited a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed a concession of guilt when a defendant was unresponsive during questioning, but NBC News said the McCoy case is slightly different because the defendant was in obvious disagreement with his lawyer’s strategy.

“It is inconceivable that the framers intended that the assistance of counsel should come at the price of defense counsel being authorized to tell the jury that the accused is guilty, even over the accused’s protestations of his own innocence,” McCoy’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court stated.

Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, stated that clients have the most at take during their trial and therefore lawyers should listen to them.

“If the strategy doesn’t work, it’s the client who is held responsible,” Joy said to NBC News. “The lawyer goes home. The client goes to prison or death row.”

English said that a lawyer had to create a strategy to win a case. He declined to talk to NBC News about specifics of the McCoy appeal.

What do you think about McCoy’s case? Let us know in the comments below.


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