Florida Criminal Appeals Attorney Law

Appellate Law, Criminal Defense and Appeals and Post Conviction Relief in Florida Courts, Federal District Courts and the 11th Circuit

Tag: plea bargain

How Will the Florida Bar’s Ethics Opinion Prohibiting Waivers of Claims of Prosecutorial Misconduct and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Be Enforced?

Florida’s criminal defense attorneys are probably aware by now that the Florida Bar has adopted the highly debated ethical opinion which prohibits waivers of claims of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel in plea bargains.  According to the Florida Bar News report, although representatives from the United States Attorneys offices for the Southern, Middle, and Northern Districts of Florida argued against the adoption of the ethical opinion, the Board of Governors adopted the proposed ethical opinion with only a few dissenting votes.

The ethical opinion is a step in the right direction, but how will the opinion will be enforced?  For those of you who practice in State court, if your client is offered a plea that contains a waiver of claims of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct, perhaps you could bring the new ethical opinion to the prosecutor’s attention.  If that fails, you could bring the ethical opinion to the attention of the court.

However, if you practice in Federal court, the ethical opinion may not necessarily change anything.  Federal court criminal defense practitioners may know that the Department of Justice does not require that the Assistant United States Attorneys be admitted to their state bar.  In other words, AUSAs in the Southern, Middle, and Northern Districts may not necessarily be members of the Florida Bar.   If the AUSAs are not members of the Florida Bar, they would not be bound by any of the Florida Bar’s ethical rules.  Therefore, unless the U.S.  Attorneys in the districts of Florida voluntarily adopt a policy prohibiting plea offers containing waivers of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, Federal court criminal defense practitioners may see little to no change with regard to plea offers.  I would hope that the US Attorneys take it upon themselves to change their policies, but, given their opposition to the ethical opinion, I wouldn’t expect it.

Pagan v. State, No. 2D11-3804: Florida’s Second DCA Issues Opinion Touching On Issue of Plea Bargain Waivers of Claims of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

On November 14, 2012, the Second DCA issued an opinion in Pagan v. State, No. 2D11-3804, wherein the court held that the trial court erred in summarily denying Pagan’s Rule 3.170(l) motion to withdraw his plea based on misleading advice of counsel.  According to the opinion, after Pagan was sentenced to 30 years for his involvement in the death of a child, Pagan moved to withdraw his plea.  The trial court appointed conflict free counsel to represent Pagan, and a hearing was set.  Just before the hearing commenced, the State offered Pagan a reduced sentence of 15 years in exchange for Pagan’s waiver of any right to seek collateral relief.  The court gave Pagan time to consult with his attorney, after which Pagan accepted the State’s offer.  The court resentenced him to the lesser term, remarking to Pagan that “you would be agreeing that you will withdraw this motion to withdraw your plea and you will also be agreeing that you will not file any further post-conviction motions attempting to reduce this sentence that I am about to impose.”  Later the court added: “And just to reiterate part of the deal is you will not be filing any more post-conviction motions.  This—this is it. You filed it.  It worked for you.”  After resentencing, Pagan filed several Rule 3.850 motions, alleging that he received ineffective assistance in connection with the State’s offer to resolve his rule 3.170(l) motion.  Predictably, the trial court denied each of his motions.  On appeal, the Second District reversed.

In support of its holding, the Court first noted that a Rule 3.170(l) motion is not a postconviction matter, and that a defendant is entitled to effective assistance of counsel in connection with such motion.  See Pagan, slip op., pg. 3.  The Court also observed that “a defendant can waive his right to collaterally attack his judgment and sentence when the waiver is expressly stated in the plea agreement and he knowingly and voluntarily agrees to the waiver.”  See Pagan, slip op., pg. 4 (citing Stahl v. State, 972 So. 2d 1013, 1015 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008); Williams v. United States, 396 F.3d 1340, 1342 (11th Cir. 2005)). However, “ineffective assistance of counsel claims attacking the advice received from counsel in entering into the plea and waiver cannot be waived.”  See Id.

While the opinion seems to have reached the right result by holding that Pagan did not waive his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, it is troubling that the court’s opinion closed with a cautionary note:

We remand to the circuit court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on
Pagan’s allegations of ineffective assistance in connection with the agreement to
resolve his rule 3.170(l) motion. We caution that Pagan may subject himself to a worse
result if he goes forward with this process, but that is his decision to make.

Pagan, slip op. pg. 4.

I also find it troubling that the Court failed to address the obvious ethical issue presented by the opinion: whether a defendant can be offered a plea bargain that requires him or her to waive future claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (or prosecutorial misconduct)?  Florida’s criminal appeals and criminal defense attorneys may remember that this past August, the Professional Ethics Committee of the Florida Bar issued Proposed Ethics Advisory Opinion 12-1, which states that plea bargains which require defendants to waive future claims of prosecutorial misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel violate Bar rules.

To view a few of the articles that appeared in the Florida Bar News regarding the Advisory Opinion, click here and here.  Although the Advisory Opinion has not yet been adopted by the Florida Bar Board of Governors, if there is no appeal of the proposed opinion, the Advisory Opinion will become final.


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