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December 31, 2017

Project News Archive (2017 and earlier)

ABA brief asks U.S. Supreme Court to overturn death penalty conviction in case where trial attorney conceded guilt over client’s objection

November 20, 2017 – Today the American Bar Association submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the capital case of McCoy v. Louisiana. A Bossier Parish jury sentenced Mr. McCoy to death in 2011 for killing three family members of his estranged wife. Before his trial, Mr. McCoy explicitly expressed to his attorney that it was his desire to contest guilt, maintain his innocence, and to argue for acquittal. However, his attorney decided to instead admit Mr. McCoy’s guilt during opening statements to the jury, causing Mr. McCoy to verbally object and ask the court for a different lawyer. After the court refused his request, his trial attorney again admitted Mr. McCoy’s guilt during closing argument, even after Mr. McCoy had provided alibi testimony. Although the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Mr. McCoy’s convictions and death sentence on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in September to consider the question of whether it is unconstitutional for a defense lawyer to admit an accused defendant’s guilt over his or her express objection.

The ABA’s brief argues that this is indeed a foundational principle of the attorney-client relationship – and an attorney must serve the interests of his or her client, and must respect the client’s right to make fundamental decisions regarding his or her case. The ABA’s position has been consistently reflected in several of our seminal resources that guide attorneys in their ethical duties and the practice of law, including the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, and the Criminal Justice Standards. The decision to admit guilt at trial is a decision that belongs solely to the competent client, and may not be disregarded by an attorney as a strategic decision. Oral arguments in McCoy v. Louisiana are expected to be held in early 2018.

The Project was proud to support the drafting and filing of this important brief and offers special thanks to Michael Gottlieb, Albert Giang, Bibeane Metsch, Matthew Schwartz, Peter Skinner, and John Zach of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP for their generous pro bonoauthorship of the brief.

You can read the ABA News update about the case here

Texas Assessment Team Files Amicus Brief in Important Texas Intellectual Disability Case

November 1, 2017 – Members of the Project’s esteemed Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Team submitted an amicus curiae brief today in Ex Parte Bobby James Moore, which is currently pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”). The case was remanded in March 2017 by the U.S. Supreme Court after it decided Moore v. Texas, which held that Texas’s use of non-clinical standards to determine whether a capital defendant has an intellectual disability was unconstitutional. Today’s excellent brief, written by pro bono counsel at Kilpatrick Townsend, is not on behalf of the ABA, but instead on behalf of Assessment Team members who believe the Court should grant Mr. Moore’s claim for Atkins relief and change his death sentence to life imprisonment.

The Assessment Team’s brief argues that the rule of law and fundamental fairness mandate that Texas adhere to the roadmap established by the Supreme Court for applying Atkins v. Virginiaand Hall v. Florida, which, based on the record, mandates a finding that Mr. Moore is intellectually disabled and ineligible for the death penalty.  According to the brief, the Texas framework for determining intellectual disability, applied to Mr. Moore, does not comply with the Eighth Amendment because it is outdated and medically baseless, as it precludes current medical standards, such as the AAIDD’s amended definition of intellectual disability.

In Moore v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court provided an evolved, detailed roadmap for constitutionally analyzing Mr. Moore’s claim (and, in fact, cited the ABA’s Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Report as reflecting the fact that “scholars and experts have long criticized” the Texas precedent for determining intellectual disability in death cases.). Finally, the Assessment Team contends that remand to district court for further proceedings is unnecessary, as the Supreme Court has already resolved all relevant issues, and harmful to Mr. Moore, as additional proceedings could take several years and he has already been inappropriately on death row and in solitary confinement for decades.

Special thanks to W. Alan Wright, Joseph S. Dowdy, and Jonathan E. Polonsky of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP for their generous work on the brief.