Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Controlling the back-seat driver

Who makes the important technical decisions concerning the way a defence is to be run, the accused or counsel representing him?

In Gonzales v United States [2008] USSC No 06-11612 (12 May 2008) the plurality opinion, delivered by Kennedy J, contains the following observations (p 9):

“Giving the attorney control of trial management matters is a practical necessity. ‘The adversary process could not function effectively if every tactical decision required client approval.’ Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U. S. 400, 418 (1988). The presentation of a criminal defense can be a mystifying process even for well-informed laypersons. This is one of the reasons for the right to counsel. See Powell v. Alabama, 287 U. S. 45, 68–69 (1932); ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Defense Function 4–5.2, Commentary, p. 202 (3d ed. 1993) (‘Many of the rights of an accused, including constitutional rights, are such that only trained experts can comprehend their full significance, and an explanation to any but the most sophisticated client would be futile’). Numerous choices affecting conduct of the trial, including the objections to make, the witnesses to call, and the arguments to advance, depend not only upon what is permissible under the rules of evidence and procedure but also upon tactical considerations of the moment and the larger strategic plan for the trial. These matters can be difficult to explain to a layperson; and to require in all instances that they be approved by the client could risk compromising the efficiencies and fairness that the trial process is designed to promote. In exercising professional judgment, moreover, the attorney draws upon the expertise and experience that members of the bar should bring to the trial process. In most instances the attorney will have a better understanding of the procedural choices than the client; or at least the law should so assume. See Jones v. Barnes, 463 U. S. 745, 751 (1983); see also Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U. S. 258, 267–268 (1973); cf. ABA Standards, supra, at 202 (‘Every experienced advocate can recall the disconcerting experience of trying to conduct the examination of a witness or follow opposing arguments or the judge’s charge while the client ‘plucks at the attorney’s sleeve’ offering gratuitous suggestions’). To hold that every instance of waiver re quires the personal consent of the client himself or herself would be impractical.”

That case concerned the jury examination and selection procedure, but obviously these remarks are of general application.

There will be times when, as defence counsel, one realises that the client would have a much better chance if only his instructions were different. There is, importantly, an obligation to follow the client’s instructions and not to create a defence where none would otherwise have arisen. Failure to conduct a defence in accordance with instructions can give rise to a substantial miscarriage of justice eg R v Irwin [1987] 1 WLR 902; [1987] 2 All ER 1085.

In Adams on Criminal Law the position is summarised, at CA385.13, as:

“Counsel’s obligation to conduct the trial according to the accused’s instructions carries with it an obligation to take instructions where matters arise as to which counsel’s current instructions do not extend: R v Kerr 11/4/00, CA504/99. The requirement does not extend to investigating in detail all possible defences so as to obtain the “informed consent” of the accused to the running of some alternative to that most open on the facts: R v Nicholson 8/10/98, CA439/97. Nor need counsel canvass with the accused all possible options, including those which are tactically unsound or depend on matters solely within the accused’s own knowledge: R v Momo 23/7/02, CA115/02. Counsel is not required to inform the accused that he or she has the right to insist on a particular course of action being taken: R v Hookway [2007] NZCA 567, at paras 19 and 23.

“The accused will not be bound by concessions made without authority by counsel during sentencing: R v Xie [2007] NZCA 571, at paras 6 and 7.”

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