Friday, August 22, 2014

Kentucky Supreme Court finds that it is unethical to require a defendant to waive right to claim of ineffective assistance of counsel as part of plea bargaining

As you probably know, it is not uncommon for convicted criminal defendants to challenge their convictions alleging that their lawyers did not provide effective assistance of counsel, and that sometimes the ineffective assistance related to the attorneys' inadequate counseling on whether the defendant should agree to a plea offer.  However, apparently prosecutors in federal court often require defendants to give up that right in order to have a favorable plea bargain.  In other words, it has been reported that often the plea offer is conditioned on the defendant waiving the right to challenge the attorney's performance as ineffective as part of attempts to seek post conviction relief.

Yesterday, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a very important opinion concluding that the use of ineffective assistance of counsel waivers in plea bargain agreements "(1) creates a non- waivable conflict of interest between the defendant and his attorney, (2) operates effectively to limit the attorney's liability for malpractice, and (3) induces, by the prosecutor's insertion of the waiver into plea agreements, an ethical breach by defense counsel."

The opinion was the result of a request by the prosecutors of the office of the United States Attorneys for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky to review the merits of an advisory ethics opinion by the Kentucky Bar Association (Ethics Opinion E-435), an ethics advisory which held that the use of ineffective-assistance-of-counsel (IAC) waivers in plea agreements violates Kentucky's Rules of Professional Conduct.  After a very well reasoned discussion of the opinion, the Court concluded that it agrees with the Bar Association and that it is unethical for prosecutors to include a waiver as a condition to a plea agreement and for defense lawyers to advise clients about it.

The case is called US v Kentucky Bar Association and the opinion is available here.  For comments go to The Legal Ethics Forum, Behavioral Legal Ethics, The Legal Profession Blog, and a ;ublic defender.

Thank you very much to Grace Giesel (Univ of Lousville) for sending me the news!