New York Lawyers Must Let Clients Nix Guilty Plea After Advice

Oct. 30, 2019, 6:55 PM

Lawyers must respect a client’s wish to withdraw a guilty plea after having explained the risks in doing so, even if the withdrawal would result in a harsher sentence, according to the New York State Bar Association’s ethics committee.

“Having explained to the client the advantages and disadvantages of a particular objective the client desires, the lawyer has satisfied the lawyer’s obligations” under professional ethics rules, the committee said.

These state rules include Rule 1.2, dealing with scope of representation and allocation of authority between client and lawyer, and Rule 1.4 regarding communication.

A New York attorney had asked the committee to advise on the their case. The attorney’s client would likely be found guilty if the case went to trial and the client would lose the chance to participate in a drug treatment program that was part of the plea deal.

New York’s criminal law allows the withdrawal of a guilty plea, the committee noted. And state ethics rules, confer “upon the client the ultimate authority to determine the purpose to be served by legal representation,” it said.

The lawyer’s role and responsibility in this process is to allow the client to make an informed decision, which includes advising the client on how to achieve the client’s objectives, the committee said. The lawyer should give the client an assessment of “the probability of success on any motion as well as any adverse consequences,” it said.

The committee said its opinion applies even when the client’s decision impacts receiving drug treatment.

The opinion is N.Y.S. Bar Ass’n Comm. on Prof’l Ethics, Op. 1175, 10/28/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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