Monday, February 1, 2010
The Supreme Court of Washington vacated the conviction of a juvenile who had pled guilty to first degree sexual molestation at the age of twelve. The court found that the appointed public defender had rendered ineffective assistance of counsel.
The court condemned a practice at the time (since prohibited) that required counsel to pay the expenses of investigation and expert out of counsel fees, providing a financial disincentive to vigorously defend. The court also expressed concern about systemic problems of overworked appointed defense counsel, invoking the promise of Gideon. Here, the attorney had basically shut down any investigative avenues after he felt that the client had admitted guilt. The court found that an admission or indication of guilt does not absolve counsel from the duty to investigate, noting that expert evidence suggested that juveniles may be particularly prone to false confessions.
One particularly interesting aspect of the opinion discusses the obligation of counsel to consult with a juvenile client outside of the presence of the parents:
A juvenile client should be given the opportunity to consult with and confide in
his attorney without his parents present. We hold that the failure to provide
that opportunity to a juvenile defendant is a factor that may be considered by
a court when considering whether a plea was knowingly, voluntarily, and
intelligently made but is not dispositive in this case.