On a television lawyer show—take The Good Fight, the best of the genre currently available—a legal case is all about the lawyers. In a typical episode, for example, lawyer Lucca Quinn must prove her client’s innocence, safeguard her job at her law firm, keep up with her pregnancy-related back exercises, win the respect of a tough federal judge, and protect as best she can her relationship with the former prosecutor—who happens to be the father of her unborn child. She usually succeeds brilliantly.

Oh, yeah, almost forgot—her client gets off. Sometimes.

Young lawyers learn early—in clinical training or in practice—that the actual practice of law isn’t much like The Good Fight. The client, not the lawyer, is the center of a case: A lawyer offers advice, and decides on trial strategy, but in the end, the key decisions are the client’s, not the lawyer’s, to make. In a criminal case, those key decisions are whether to plead guilty, whether to seek a jury trial, whether to testify, and, if convicted, whether to appeal.

In our system, those decisions are too important to be left to a third party. As a very fine criminal-defense lawyer I knew used to say to his clients, “When this case is done, it’s going to be a file in my office—but it’s going to be your life.”

I don’t know whether Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Justice Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court watch The Good Fight, but if so, I suspect each sees a different story. At least that’s the conclusion I would draw from McCoy v. Louisiana, the bizarre death penalty case decided Monday by the Supreme Court. In ordinary English, here is the question it posed: If a defendant says he is not guilty, and refuses to plead guilty, can the lawyer nonetheless tell …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Politics


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