Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision this week regarding ineffective assistance of counsel. The case is Wright v. Van Patten, No. 07-212.

In this case, counsel for the criminal defendant participated in a plea hearing by telephone and was not physically present in the courtroom. The defendant, in his post-conviction relief petitions, raised the issue of whether the absence of counsel from the courtroom (he participated via telephone), constituted the ineffective assistance of counsel.

The Court sidestepped this issue, however, by holding that habeus relief was not warranted in any event because there was no clear precedent from the Court on the topic, so no violation of the defendant's rights had occurred. The Court expressly reserved the issue of whether participation by telephone might be ineffective. In dicta, the Court said the issue would not be whether counsel who is physically present will perform better than one who attends by phone, but rather whether the lack of attendance prevented the attorney from counseling the accused.

As the courts move more and more toward embracing new technologies these types of issues are going to become increasingly common. My guess is that, in the next few years, we are going to see a few decisions come out of the courts of appeal the the Supreme Court on these issues.


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