A Duty to Defend?

Had a potential client in my office this afternoon to discuss his pending criminal fraud charges. He is currently being represented by the public defenders office. He was concerned about the fact that the PD office would not file a motion to suppress that he felt very strongly about.

An attorney has a duty to represent his client in the best interest in the settlement of his case. This includes plea negotiations, pre-trial motions practice, and at trial if necessary or requested by the client.

Attorneys represent client. It must be remembered that the case belongs to the client not the attorney. That raises a question of how far does the attorney have to go during his representation of the client. Does an attorney have a duty to file a suppression motion if the client feels strongly about?

I believe that an attorney must evaluate the facts and circumstances surrounding the evidence subject to the suppression motion. This evaluation must be conducted by the attorney independently of the client’s wishes and desires. If there is any legitimate basis to prepare, file, and argue a motion to suppress, then I believe the attorney has an obligation to comply with the client’s request.

On the other hand, if there is no legitimate bases to prepare, file and argue a motion to suppress, then I believe the attorney has no obligation to comply with the client’s requests. Based on the attorney’s training and experience, sometimes hard decisions need to be made. It is up to the attorney to explain to the client the reasons for not filing the motion and to support those reasons with facts (or lack thereof) and the current state of the law.

Does your attorney have a duty to defend his client at any costs? NO. The lawyer is in the best position to make strategic decisions based on his/her training and experience. That is the reason that it is always best to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.

If you have questions, contact the Law Office of Michael P. Hanle. I have over 20 years of experience handling criminal defense cases in the federal, state and municipal courts in the Birmingham, Alabama area and surrounding counties.

Being Fired Never Felt So Good

I got fired yesterday. You might think that I was upset or disappointed. Honestly, it was the best feeling in the world.

In May of 2012 I was appointed to represent a defendant in federal court charged with Aggravated Identity Theft, Possession of Counterfeit Access Devices (read credit cards), Possession of Access Device Making Equipment, and three counts of aiding and abetting. My appointment resulted following the withdrawal of his first attorney. It was apparent from the first moment I met the defendant that he was going to be difficult to represent. He made it very clear that he was smarter than me, that he knew the law better than me, and that he was going to be in complete control of how his case proceeded.

The defendant was in custody when I was appointed. Within 2 weeks, I was able to convince a Magistrate Judge to release him on bond pending the trial of his case. At this point, he was very happy with my services.

Despite giving a 1 1/2 hour Mirandized custodial interview (read confession) admitting to almost every element of the charges against him, he insisted that he was not guilty and wanted a trial. He demanded that I file a motion to suppress evidence obtained in a Georgia traffic stop 1 month before his arrest, despite video evidence that he consented to the search. I did not file that motion. I did, however, file a Motion in Limine and was able to exclude large portions of the video taped confession from being played during the trial. He was not happy with my services.

After 4 days of trial, the Judge threw out half of the counts on a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal. The jury returned a guilty verdict as to the remaining counts. Now he was really unhappy because apparently his conviction was my fault and had nothing to do with his confession and the significant evidence pointing to his guilt. It was at this point that he started using the term Ineffective Assistance of Counsel.

Following trial, he requested and I filed a Motion to Modify the Conditions of his Bond so he could work. He failed to show up for the hearing and a warrant was issued. He was ultimately arrested and placed into one of our local county jails pending sentencing. This again was my fault.

The defendant was scheduled for sentencing yesterday. He filed a Pro Se motion for appointment of counsel a week ago citing irreconcilable difference. We had a hearing at 8:30 on his motion. He clammed up and told the Magistrate Judge that he wanted to move forward with me as his attorney. When his sentencing hearing began later in the morning, he told the Judge I had not provided him documents necessary for the sentencing. The Judge stopped the proceedings and told me to meet with him to go over the documents that I had mailed to him 3 weeks earlier.

When I got down to the U.S. Marshall’s lockup to meet with him, he again started talking about ineffective assistance of counsel. It was at this moment that he fired me. To say that this was the most difficult client would be an understatement. Others have claimed that I provided ineffective assistance in my representation, but no court has ever agreed with them. Disgruntled defendants are an occupational hazard when you practice criminal defense.

Following a hearing at 3:30 in the afternoon, I was finally relieved of my representation of the defendant. The Public Defender’s Office was appointed to represent him and I was free. After putting in well over 100 hours during the defense of his case, I was finally free to close his file for the final time.

Being fired never felt so good.

MIchael P. Hanle
Law Office of Michael P. Hanle