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Death Row Inmates Are Now Required to Appeal Their Death Sentences

In a recent case decided this year, defendants’ rights (and the attorneys who represent them) may be overridden by procedures mandated by Florida statutes. The Florida Supreme Court decided this last July that a death row inmate must seek an appeal, as required by statute, even though the death row inmate has no desire to appeal and wants to be executed. In this recent case, the death row inmate’s attorney wanted to be withdrawn from the case because he believed he was not able to advocate on behalf of his client’s wishes and was being forced by the Courts to initiate appeal procedures.

Effective Advocacy is A Constitutionally-Protected Right

What makes this so important is that our legal system requires that attorneys, except for rare circumstances, follow their clients’ wishes and advocate on their behalf. If a client wants to take a plea, the attorney must take the plea on the client’s behalf. If the client wants to affirm the sentence and not appeal, then the attorney should follow suit. This recent ruling, however, forces an attorney to continue to represent his client in a mandatory appeal that is required by Florida’s capital law. The attorney argued that not being permitted to withdraw from the case violated his ethical obligation to abide by his client’s wishes.

What is Effective Assistance?

In this case, the death row inmate is not being permitted to waive his constitutional right of appeal. This is because not appealing the capital sentence would inherently be state-assisted suicide, which would be against public policy and Florida’s criminal justice system. Justice Barbara Pariente, in her opinion, stated that permitting a lawyer to follow his death row inmate’s wishes to be executed is considered “ineffective assistance”; effective assistance is an ethical requirement that a lawyer’s performance and advocacy on behalf of his client is not deficient, whereby the defendant’s constitutional right to counsel is not infringed upon.

Is the Death Sentence that Different from Other Sentences?

The death sentence is inherently different than any other sentence that could be applied to a defendant. Capital cases require significant checks and balances to ensure that a defendant is not arbitrarily and capriciously sentenced to death. A mandatorily required direct-appeal procedure would ensure that the sentence was not applied to a defendant due to passion or prejudice, or was being disproportionately applied the death sentence for a more minor crime.

Self-Representation Not A Right in Death Sentence Appeals

In addition to this case determining that the appeals process is mandatory in capital cases, a new amendment to the Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure requires that inmates must have counsel or representation when appealing the death sentence. Though the right to self-representation is permitted in most other crimes, this case affirms that the death penalty appeals are not within that category.

Florida Attorney Withdrawal Law

In Florida, withdrawal from a case is permitted in two situations: first, situations in which the attorney must withdraw; and second, when the attorney may be able to decide to withdraw.

An attorney must withdraw when:

  • representation of the client would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or the law;
  • a physical or mental condition is diagnosed and impairs the lawyer’s ability to effectively represent his/her client;
  • the client acts in a way that would utilize (or has already utilized) the lawyer’s services in furtherance of a crime or another fraudulent act; or
  • the defendant discharges his counsel.

An attorney may decide to withdraw if:

  • there is a conflict of interest where the lawyer’s services would render his assistance ineffective;
  • the client desires the lawyer to take actions that the lawyer finds morally or ethically repugnant or reckless;
  • assistance to the client would be financially over burdensome; or
  • other good cause exists for withdrawal.

Criminal Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, effective assistance of counsel is a constitutionally-protected right. Effective assistance, however, comes from experienced criminal defense attorneys who have years of training and experience and who understand the criminal justice system. Kevin J. Kulik has had significant criminal defense experience and will be able to provide effective assistance on your behalf. Contact Kevin J. Kulik in Fort Lauderdale for a free and confidential consultation today.

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