A defendant's right to a fair trial imposes important limitations on how prosecutors can characterize evidence or argue their case before the jury. If a prosecutor makes objectionable comments during trial, the court has wide discretion whether to let the comment slide or declare a mistrial and force the State to start its case over in front of a new jury. However, if a prosecutor repeatedly makes inflammatory or misleading comments, the cumulative effects of those statements may require the defendant to receive a new trial.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to effective assistance of counsel during all "critical stages" of a criminal proceeding. In the context of plea negotiations, this means that criminal defense attorneys must convey plea offers to their client in a timely fashion and give adequate advice about the consequences of accepting or rejecting the offer. The United States Supreme Court previously held, in a case called Padilla v. Kentucky, that this duty extends to advice about the immigration consequences of entering a plea. In an opinion rendered last week, Lee v. United States, the Supreme Court held that bad advice about immigration consequences can support post-conviction relief, even in situations where the defendant did not have any reasonable hope of winning at trial.
In an opinion rendered this week-Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado-the Supreme Court carved out an important exception to a longstanding rule prohibiting jurors from being questioned about conduct during deliberations after a verdict has been rendered. The case involved a Colorado man who was convicted for sexually assaulting two teenage girls. The jury returned a verdict against him. After the trial, two jurors approached Mr. Pena-Rodriguez's criminal defense attorney and expressed concerns about another juror's racial comments during deliberations. Specifically, the juror went into a lengthy tirade about Mr. Pena-Rodriguez's Hispanic heritage, noting that he "believed the defendant was guilty because, in [the juror's] experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women."
Most people know that the Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to a trial, "without unnecessary delay". However, in the federal system, defendants also have speedy trial rights under statutory law. Specifically, the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 requires a criminal trial to commence within 70 days from the date the Information or Indictment was filed or from the date the defendant appears before an officer of the court during his first appearance, whichever is later. While the Speedy Trial Act may seem simple, it is often the subject of litigation, because the 70 days provided in the act can often actually go much longer before a defendant is entitled to a trial on his criminal charges.
The AAJ Civil Rights Section presents the Leonard Weinglass in Defense of Civil Liberties Award, annually, to honor an attorney or a civil rights advocate who has made a noteworthy contribution to the defense of our civil rights and civil liberties bringing, trying, or resolving a suit, or by otherwise protecting or advancing civil liberties, in a way that has had a significant impact.
In addition to representing our clients in their individual cases, one of the most gratifying experiences to the members of this firm is to prevail on a constitutional issue which benefits thousands of criminally accused defendants. Over twenty -one years ago, we were honored to have successfully argued Doggett vs. United States, 505 U.S. 647 (1992) before the United States Supreme Court. Doggetthas become the bedrock case when courts are determining whether a person's Sixth Amendment right to speedy arrest has been violated, and has been cited in thousands of decisions on this issue.
Marc Doggett was charged by indictment with conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine. He called me and made an appointment a few days after he had been arrested in Reston, Virginia. The case itself was in Jacksonville, Florida, so he came to Jacksonville and hired us. I'm not altogether clear how Mr. Doggett found me, but the minute I met him, I knew what his avenue of escape from the clutches of the United States might be. I recall meeting with Marc in the conference room in the afternoon and, during the course of our conversation, I had the folks in the office retrieve a closed file in the case of United States v. A.J.B.1 AJB's case involved the very same issue as Doggett's: the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. I had won AJB's case on a motion to dismiss before the Honorable Charles R. Scott, United States Federal District Judge for the Middle District of Florida. The difference between the two cases was that Mr. Doggett's delay was far longer than AJB's (8-1/2 years versus 32 months).