Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Re Alonzo J. (Cal. Supreme Ct. - April 3, 2014)

The next time someone tells you that the client has the ultimate say over whether or not to plead guilty, tell 'em about this unanimous opinion of the California Supreme Court.  Which holds to the contrary.

The Court holds here that a juvenile -- here, a 13-year old -- can't plead guilty if his attorney doesn't consent.  The Court ends its opinion by saying that "[n]ot before us are questions concerning how attorneys should exercise the authority to give or withhold that consent, and we express no view on those separate issues of attorney ethics."  Which is a neat way of sidestepping what are to me major questions about the validity -- not to mention the wisdom -- of the underlying rule.

But the Court holds that the Legislature has, and is permitted to, force a juvenile defendant to go to trial notwithstanding the fact that he wants to plead guilty (and/or no contest) and go home.  Even when, as here, the attorney admits that there's more than enough evidence to convict the client at trial.

Whether to plead guilty is not the client's decision.  It's the attorney's.