Friday, July 06, 2012

Florida Bar proposes advisory opinion re 2255 waivers

Back in September, the Florida Bar's Professional Ethics Committee voted 13-11 that criminal defense lawyers could not ethically advise their clients to waive their 2255 (habeas) rights in a plea agreement (see Blog coverage here). Over strong opposition by the government, the Bar just proposed this advisory opinion on the subject:
A member of The Florida Bar has requested an opinion regarding the ethical propriety of offering or advising a criminal defendant to accept a plea offer in which the criminal defendant waives past or future ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. The committee first notes that whether particular plea agreements are lawful, enforceable and meet constitutional requirements are legal questions outside the scope of an ethics opinion. Reviewing these issues in light of ethics considerations, the committee concludes that both offering and recommending acceptance of such a plea offer is improper. ***

The Committee concludes that a criminal defense lawyer has a personal conflict of interest when advising a client regarding waiving the right to later collateral proceedings regarding ineffective assistance of counsel. The lawyer has a personal interest in not having the lawyer's own representation of the client determined to be ineffective under constitutional standards. This conflict is not one that the client should be asked to waive as noted in the comment to Rule 4-1.7, which states: "when a disinterested lawyer would conclude that the client should not agree to the representation under the circumstances, the lawyer involved cannot properly ask for such agreement or provide representation on the basis of the client's consent." A disinterested lawyer would be unlikely to reach the conclusion that the criminal defense lawyer could give objective advice about that lawyer's own performance.

Regarding the prosecutor's conduct in offering the plea agreement, the committee agrees with those states that find that the conduct is impermissible as both prejudicial to the administration of justice and assisting the criminal defense lawyer in violating the Rules of Professional Conduct under Rule 4-8.4(d) and 4-8.4(a), Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. The Committee believes that the vast majority of prosecutors act in good faith and would not intentionally commit misconduct. However, some prosecutorial misconduct can occur unintentionally and, in the rare instance, even intentionally. Prosecutorial misconduct may be known only to the prosecutor in question, e.g., when the prosecutor has failed to disclose exculpatory information. The Committee's opinion is that it is prejudicial to the administration of justice for a prosecutor to require the criminal defendant to waive claims of prosecutorial misconduct when the prosecutor is in the best position, and indeed may be the only person, to be aware that misconduct has taken place.
As I've said before, it's odd to me that the government opposed this opinion:
Why do prosecutors attempt to have criminal defense lawyers waive their clients' 2255 rights in a plea agreement? How can a criminal defense ethically tell his client that the client should waive a claim that he (the lawyer) is ineffective? There are conflict issues both for the prosecutor and the defense lawyer here. And yet, the government pushes these waivers, forcing the lawyer in most cases to either plead straight up. Judge Roettger was great on these issues. He never let a defendant waive his appellate rights. Back then prosecutors didn't ask for 2255 waivers (or Booker waivers). Judge Roettger would cross the appellate waiver out of the plea agreements and ask prosecutors whether they worked for the Department of Justice or Injustice. He asked them why shouldn't an appellate court review his rulings at sentencing. What if he made a mistake?
Well, now it's unethical for prosecutors to ask or defense lawyers to advise clients to sign 2255 waivers. Congrats to all of the lawyers who pushed for this rule. I know Michael Caruso spoke at the Florida Bar meeting in support of the opinion. Also, Bruce Reinhart was the member of the Florida Bar who requested than an opinion be issued.


Anonymous said...

"It is a contract of adhesion, sir, and I will not allow it in my courtroom. Now, if you will excuse me, I am off on safari -- big game hunting don't you know."

gottta love Stormin' Norman, you don't too many characters like him on the bench anymore

Bob Becerra said...

The issue of these 2255 waivers was always rife with conflicts of interest. It should be relegated to the ashheap of human legal history.