Not Guilty Plea Request Denied by Attorney, Death Row Inmate Fights Back

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In Bossier City, Louisiana, a man that has maintained a claim of innocence has been put on death row for shooting and killing his mother, stepfather, and son of his separated wife in 2008.  The thing is, ever since he was detained and put on trial, Robert McCoy maintained that he is innocent and that he wanted to plead not guilty.  His claim is that he is a victim of conspiracy.

Regardless of McCoy’s plea, his own defense lawyer, Larry English, took it upon himself to tell jurors that he did, in fact, commit these murders.  With a plea of guilty, English also tried to stress McCoy’s mental condition.  This is a lawyer that McCoy wanted to discharge once he learned that the counsel intended to concede guilt, despite his protests.  Unfortunately, McCoy had already removed his initial appointed lawyer because he believed that the arranged lawyer was not making the effort to really help him.  Ultimately, McCoy was unable to change from his second lawyer due to his request being “untimely”, and so the English moved forward as planned and pled guilty with hope of diminishing McCoy’s potential sentence from death row to second-degree murder.  

After the verdict, inmate McCoy made an appeal to the Louisiana supreme court, but his appeal was denied.  The reason for denial was that the counsel’s “failure to follow McCoy’s direction (to plea not guilty) “did not deny Mr. McCoy the assistance of counsel or create a conflict of interest” since it still worked to defend him with a strategy.  They cited the Florida v. Nixon decision by the Supreme Court in 2004.   

So, McCoy continued to exercised his rights and appealed the decision of the Louisiana supreme court.  This time, the Federal Supreme Court accepted his appeal based on the question: “Whether it is unconstitutional for defense counsel to concede an accused’s guilt over the accused’s express objection.”  

It appears that some justices believe that the client should have the right to admit or deny their own guilt in a capital case, not the lawyer. In a quote noted in NY Times, Neil M Gorsuch stated, “Can we even call it assistance of counsel?  Is that what it is when a lawyer overrides that person’s wishes?”  

CLARIFICATION OF THE CRIMINAL APPEALS PROCESS

For those unaware that convicted defendants have the right to appeal their convictions and have their case reviewed, here is some worthwhile information for you:

  1. If the individual can get their request submitted within a set time limit to the state’s highest court, which is usually 30 days for state or 60 days for federal court.  There is a gauntlet of deadlines to meet once the notice of appeal is filed, you must be diligent.  Some states make the appeal mandatory for a capital punishment case.
  2. The number of successful appeals is actually rather low, but if you are able to prove that you have been wronged in the appellate court, it could mean the difference between life and death as it is for McCoy. If your state supreme court denies your appeal, you may still file a “writ of habeas corpus.”  This remains at the trial level, and must go to the federal district court.

 

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