The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in a Florida case that a lawyer doesn’t always need a defendant’s consent when conceding guilt in a capital trial. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that “when the evidence is overwhelming and the crime heinous,” a lawyer “who attempts an implausible defense may jeopardize his client’s chances for a life sentence in lieu of the death penalty.”
Joe Elton Nixon kidnapped a woman, tied her to a tree along a dirt road outside Tallahassee and burned her to death.
Nixon told relatives and, later, police what he had done. At trial, his public defender entered a plea of not guilty, but immediately tried to negotiate for a plea bargain.
Court records say the lawyer tried to explain his strategy to Nixon, but the defendant was “unresponsive.”
The Supreme Court reversed Florida’s highest court, which had overturned the conviction, ruling Nixon had to give his express consent to the concession of guilty.