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Jones v. Barnes

    Barnes (Defendant) argued that he had an absolute right to have his attorney to raise on appeal every non-frivolous issue he requested

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A lawyer representing a defendant on appeal is not under a duty to raise every non-frivolous issue the defendant requests

    Facts.

    Barnes (Defendant) was convicted of armed robbery and a public defender was appointed to prosecute his appeal.  Defendant requested that certain issues be raised in the appeal.  As part of his strategy, the attorney declined to press all the proffered issues.  The conviction was affirmed.  Defendant petitioned for habeas corpus, arguing that his attorney’s refusal to prosecute all non-frivolous issues constituted a denial of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.  The Second Circuit granted the writ, and the Supreme Court granted review.

    Issue.

    Is a lawyer representing a defendant on appeal under a duty to raise every non-frivolous issue the defendant requests?

    Held.

    (Burger, C.J.)  No. A lawyer representing a defendant on appeal is not under a duty to raise every non-frivolous issue the defendant requests.  It is safe to assume that counsel is in a better position than the defendant to consider how best to prosecute an appeal.  In many situations, raising every issue will be detrimental to an appeal, as the weaker points will drown the stronger ones.  To create a per se rule that a defendant is entitled to have appointed counsel raise every issue he desires would seriously undermine the ability of counsel to present the client’s case in line with counsel’s professional judgment.  This Court is not willing to take this step.  Reversed.

    Dissent.

    (Brennan, J.)  The Sixth Amendment provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have the right to the assistance of counsel.  This right does not seem consistent with a government under which appointed counsel can refuse to raise issues with arguable merit on appeal, when the client has directed that they be raised.  Clients are capable of making informed judgments about which issues to appeal, and when they do so, their choices should be respected, unless they would require lawyers to violate their consciences, the law, or their duties to the court.

    Discussion.

    It must not be forgotten that this was a constitutional ruling.  The Court merely held that, as a matter of federal constitutional law, no right to press all issues on appeal belongs to one having appointed counsel.  Depending on jurisdiction, an attorney may have an ethical obligation to raise all such issues.  Canon 5 of the ABA Code of Professional Responsibility concerns an attorney’s obligation to exercise independent professional judgment on behalf of such a client.  This canon is mainly concerned with avoiding external, third-party influences over the decision-making process of the attorney.  It does not speak to interference by the client himself.


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