Friday, January 11, 2008

Telephone Practice of Law

In Wright v. Von Patten (January 2008), the Supreme Court held that a criminal defendant whose lawyer participates in his plea hearing by speakerphone has not presumptively received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court's opinion is here.

In the context of this case, the defendant was entitled to habeus relief only if he could establish a ban on lawyers' speaker phone appearances in prior Supreme Court cases. The Court held: Our precedents do not clearly hold that counsel's participation by speaker phone should be treated as a 'complete denial of counsel' on par with total absence. Even if we agree [] that a lawyer physically present will perform better than one on the phone, it does not necessarily follow that mere telephone contact amounted to 'total absence' or 'prevented [counsel] from assisting the accused' . . . ."

The Court did not rule on the merits of the defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel argument, and expressly left the question of whether a tele-lawyer can render effective assistance to a criminal defendant "for another day."

1 comment:

Alison M. Kilmartin said...

I guess this puts a new spin on the phrase "telephone justice."

Speaking of the original spin on that phrase, I was with a Judge this summer who visited a country in the eastern hemisphere. When he entered the highest chambers in the land he saw a bank of telephones within arms length of the Judge's desk. It was eye-opening to say the least.