Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lawyer Never Told to Appeal Not Ineffective For Failing to Do So

US v. Cooper: Cooper was charged with two drug counts and carrying a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking crime. Although he initially had an agreement with the Government to plead guilty to one drug count and the 924(c), Cooper eventually entered an Alford plea without an agreement to the charges. After an initial sentencing hearing at which the district court resolved some objections to the PSR but did not impose sentence, Cooper and the Government agreed to a Guideline range of 121 to 151 months on the drug charges (in addition to the 60-month 924(c) sentence, of course). At a second sentencing hearing, the district court accepted the stipulation and impose a total sentence of 181 months in prison. Cooper did not appeal.

Cooper later filed a motion seeking to vacate his sentence, arguing that his appointed lawyer was ineffective because he failed to consult with Cooper about the possibility of an appeal. Cooper testified that he wanted to file an appeal and asked his lawyer to come see him at the jail, but never actually expressed a desire to appeal to him. However, his lawyer never came to see him and his office would/could not accept Cooper's collect calls from the jail. Cooper's lawyer denied hearing a request to come visit him at the jail. The district court denied Cooper's motion, finding that he never asked his attorney to appeal and that no rational defendant would desire an appeal in such a situation.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Cooper's motion. Because Cooper did not tell counsel he wanted to appeal, the court had to determine "whether the circumstances would reasonably have led counsel to conclude that 'a rational defendant would want to appeal,' thus prompting counsel's duty to consult." No rational defendant would want an appeal in this case, the court concluded, as Cooper's actions - from entering a plea to agreeing to a sentencing range - indicated that he wanted to have the "proceedings concluded as quickly as possible." The court also noted that Cooper got the sentence he bargained for. While the end result here was not ineffective assistance of counsel, "best practices" would include consulting with the client to tie up any loose ends with regards to appeals once sentence is imposed.

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