My Client Says He is Innocent But He Wants to Take a Deal to Get Out of Jail, What Do I Do?
by JoAnne Musick, HCCLA President and lawyer
So, your client who maintains his innocence wants to “take a deal” in order to get out of jail. Can you allow your client to enter a plea of guilty, even though he maintains his innocence? Let’s start with the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
Rule 1.01(b)(1): A lawyer shall not neglect a matter entrusted to him or frequently fail to carry out completely the obligations that the lawyer owes the client.
Rule 1.02: A lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions in a criminal case, after consulting with the lawyer, as to a plea to be entered, whether to waive a jury trial, and whether the client will testify.
Rule 1.02 Comment 2: A lawyer shall disclose offers to settle (proposed plea bargain offers in criminal cases).
Rule 1.03: A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. A lawyer shall explain a matter to a client so that the client can make informed decisions about representation.
First, you have an obligation and a duty to your client. If the prosecutor has made an offer, you must relay that offer to your client. You must also explain the offer sufficiently for your client to determine whether or not to proceed to trial or accept a plea offer. It is imperative that you not only convey offers and discuss whether to proceed to trial but also consult with the client the consequences of each decision. The client must understand the trial process and its pros and cons along with the evidence that is likely to be admitted.
Secondly, you must remember that it is the client who decides what plea is to be entered. He may plead guilty or not guilty. That decision is his and his alone. You should advise him as to the consequences of his plea, but the decision to enter a plea rests solely with the informed client.
Outside the Rules, you must consider the plea itself. Remember, the client maintains his innocence, yet he wishes to enter a guilty plea and take advantage of a plea-bargain. While a judge does not have to accept any plea of guilty (thereby forcing a trial wherein the client could plead guilty to the jury), the judge can accept a plea even where the defendant asserts innocence.
The Supreme Court held in North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970) that there is no constitutional bar preventing a judge from accepting a plea where a defendant maintains his innocence while admitting that the prosecution has enough evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty. Thus, his plea stands regardless of his stance that he is innocent. This is typically referred to as an “Alford plea.”
So to answer our original question, the answer is simply you can most likely allow your client to enter a plea of guilty (to a judge or jury) despite the fact he maintains his innocence. Once the client is fully informed, the decision of the plea to enter (guilty or not guilty) rests solely with the client.