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Why You Can’t Just Take Your Client’s Word for It

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The Supreme Court just issued a ruling in Rompilla v. Beard (see this link at SCOTUS blog for a good summary and links to the opinions) a case that I blogged about several months ago here. In Rompilla, the Supreme Court reversed a death penalty ruling, finding that the Rompilla’s defense attorneys were ineffective because they did not review Rompilla’s court files which might have yielded evidence of mitigating circumstances that might have spared his life.  But, Rompilla’s attorneys had interviewed their client and numerous family members who could not offer up any information on mitigating circumstances, which presumably lead the attorneys to conclude that none existed.

What bothered me about the decision then – and now – is that it
relieves clients of any responsibility for their fate in the case.  Not
only does Rompilla impose a duty on attorneys to double check
everything their clients tell them, but it also rewards clients who
withhold information from attorneys.  Had Rompilla been straightforward
with his attorneys, the mitigating evidence would have come out – and
clients would realize that they need to cooperate with their attorneys
for a favorable outcome.  Now, it appears that clients need do nothing
but sit back and let their attorneys do all the work.  For those of us
attorneys who seek to empower our clients and encourage them to play an
active role in their representation, Rompilla sure doesn’t give us much assistance in the way of reaching that goal.

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