Thursday, June 23, 2011

Plea Precludes Malpractice Relief

The West Virginia Supreme Court has held that a criminal defendant who, after securing habeas relief, thereafter pled nolo contendere to criminal charges is precluded from seeking damages on a claim of legal malpractice:

[A] defendant who enters a plea of nolo contendere and is convicted and sentenced as a result thereof cannot contend that the attorney’s negligence was the proximate cause of such sentence. Consequently, in a legal malpractice action brought by a plaintiff against his criminal defense attorney arising out of the plaintiff’s conviction in which the plaintiff subsequently was awarded a new criminal trial and the plaintiff thereafter pleads nolo contendere rather than being retried, evidence of the plaintiff’s conviction and sentence resulting from the nolo contendere plea bars the plaintiff from recovering any incarcerated-related damages. In such circumstances, the plaintiff’s valid conviction and sentence are the sole legal cause for his incarceration and related damages.

There is a dissent from Justice Ketchum, who finds the majority decision contrary to 148 years of precedent as well as rules of procedure and evidence. (Mike Frisch)

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