A Defense Counsel’s Role When Defendants Desire the Death Penalty

Once again, defense lawyers are questioning their role in assisting criminal defendants in capital cases where the defendants seek their own execution.  Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who faces the possibility of capital punishment in his trial for for the Fort Hood Shootings, has been representing himself.  His former lawyers, who have been ordered to sit with Major Hasan and provide him legal assistance as he represents himself, have asked to be relieved on this obligation on the ground that Major Hasan is deliberately manipulating his trial in order to receive the death penalty.  They argue that they should be relieved under Sope insert.  Major Hasan’s actions raise controversial questions about the death penalty, and an attorney’s scope of representation and allocation of authority under Rule 1.2(a) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The case is reminiscent of the infamous Gilmore v. Utah, 429 U.S. 1012, 97 S.Ct. 436 (1976), where the defendant, resigned to his fate desired to receive the death penalty by firing squad. To read more about Major Hasan’s military trial read the following New York Times articles by Manny Fernandez titled, “Judge Denies Ex-Defense Team’s Bid to Limit Role in Fort Hood Suspect’s Trial,” and, “Lawyer Says Fort Hood Defendant’s Goal Is Death.”

Facebook Posts and The Scope of Prosecutorial Ethics

US Attorney John Craft, of the Eastern District of Texas may have run afoul of the scope of prosecutorial ethics rules when making Facebook comments and posts regarding President Barack Obama, and Trayvon Martin. Neither of the comments were a direct violation of Rule 3.8 and Rule 3.6 addressing trial publicity, because they were not made in direct response to a matter Craft, or the Eastern District of Texas were working on. But, Craft may have indirectly violated Rule 3.8(f) as a US Attorney, because of Attorney General Eric Holder’s public statements that the Department of Justice would continue their ongoing investigation of the Trayvon Martin incident after the controversial verdict, and his statements that the Department of Justice’s would also continue to challenge voting rights cases most notably in Texas, in addition to the DOJ’s defense of The Affordable Care Act or “ObamaCare”. This means Craft may have violated prosecutorial ethics by making extrajudicial comments in a public manner that prejudices these pending matters, in violation of both Rules 3.8 and 3.6. For more on this matter read Debra Cassens Weiss’s article on the ABA Journal’s website titled “Assistant US attorney’s derogatory Facebook comments about ‘Dalibama’ and Trayvon Martin are probed.”

Judicial Ethics: Above the Law Article, “When Judges Attack! Judge Rips Jury For Not Guilty Verdict”

When do judicial statements made to jurors after their verdict go too far? To read more about the ethics of judicial statements made to jurors after an acquittal, check out Joe Patrice’s article on abovethelaw.com titled “When Judges Attack! Judge Rips Jury For Not Guilty Verdict”.