Posted September 28, 2017 2:25 PM

Lawyers’ limits to get ruling from top court

WASHINGTON — The lawyer for a Louisiana man facing murder charges decided to concede the man’s guilt in the hope of sparing him the death penalty.

The client, lawyer Larry English told jurors in his opening argument, “committed these crimes.”

But there was a problem: Defendant Robert McCoy repeatedly proclaimed his innocence and objected to the lawyer’s approach.

Now the Supreme Court will consider whether it violates the Constitution when a lawyer ignores his client’s instructions and concedes his guilt.

The court agreed to hear McCoy’s case today.

Among the issues for the court are who is ultimately in charge of the case, the lawyer or his client, and whether the right to a lawyer that’s guaranteed by the Constitution is meaningful if, even with the best intentions, he can ignore his client’s wishes.

In McCoy’s case, the legal strategy failed. A jury sentenced McCoy to death for killing the son, mother and stepfather of his estranged wife in 2008.

McCoy’s parents had hired English to represent their son. English failed to persuade McCoy that the evidence against him was so strong that he should accept a plea deal.

With McCoy insisting on a trial, English settled on a defense that he told the trial judge was intended to “save his life, regardless of what he wanted to do.”

During the trial, McCoy testified in his own defense, saying he was innocent and suggesting that a drug trafficking ring led by law enforcement officers had framed him for the killings.

In his closing argument, English again said McCoy killed the three victims.

The Louisiana Supreme Court said English pursued a “reasonable trial strategy” in light of the evidence against McCoy and upheld the convictions.

McCoy’s Supreme Court lawyers say that the top courts in other states have ruled that lawyers can’t override their clients’ objection and concede guilt.

The case will be argued in the winter.

In other Supreme Court action:

  • The court agreed to take two cases involving allegedly improper searches by police, one of a rental car and another to get the license plate number on a stolen a motorcycle.

One case the court will consider comes from Pennsylvania and involves a man who drove a car rented by his girlfriend. The car’s rental agreement authorized Terrence Byrd’s girlfriend to drive the car, but his girlfriend gave him permission.

Byrd was pulled over and says officers told him that because his name wasn’t on the rental agreement they could search the car without his permission. Inside they found heroin and a bulletproof vest.

Byrd argues that the search was improper, but an appeals court found he didn’t have any expectation of privacy because he wasn’t named on the rental agreement.

In the second case, a police officer walked into the driveway of a Virginia man’s home to inspect a motorcycle and then arrested the man after learning it was stolen.

Ryan Collins argues the officer improperly entered his private property uninvited and without a warrant. Lower courts said the Albemarle County officer who entered the driveway and pulled back a tarp covering the motorcycle in order to read the license plate acted lawfully.

Virginia’s Supreme Court said the case involved what the Supreme Court has called the “automobile exception,” which generally allows police to search a vehicle without a warrant if they believe the vehicle contains contraband.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court before he left office, former Virginia solicitor general Stuart Raphael wrote that the automobile exception applies because police believed that the motorcycle was stolen and had twice been used to flee from police.

  • The court is giving car dealerships a second chance to put the brakes on overtime pay for service advisers.

The court has agreed to take up — again — a case involving a California dealership that claims those advisers are similar to salesmen or mechanics and therefore exempt from overtime requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed.

Last year, the Supreme Court told the appeals court to take another look — but this time, don’t defer to a Labor Department rule that service advisers aren’t exempt from overtime requirements.

The lower court once again ruled that service advisers are eligible for overtime pay.

Now the Supreme Court will get a chance to review that ruling.

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