Attempted murder conviction reversed where defendant’s attorney offered a lack-of-premeditation defense despite his client’s express wish to claim his innocence. After his release from jail on weapons charges, Flores drove his car into a police officer, gravely injuring him. At Marsden hearings before trial, Flores repeatedly stated that trial counsel was “trying to make me admit to something that I don’t want to admit.” A jury found Flores guilty of premeditated attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon upon a peace officer and found a number of enhancements true. On appeal, Flores argued it was structural error for his attorney to admit, against his wishes, that he was driving the car that injured the officer, and to offer a lack-of-intent-to-kill defense. Similarly, at Flores’ separate trial on weapons charges, he objected to his attorney’s concession he possessed certain weapons, but did not do so “knowingly.” Held: Reversed. Generally, trial management decisions are for counsel. But fundamental choices remain with the defendant, including how to plead, whether to testify, and whether the objective of the defense is to maintain innocence. (McCoy v. Louisiana (2018) ___U.S.___ [138 S.Ct. 1500]). Here, Flores’ express and repeated objective was to maintain his innocence of the alleged criminal acts, despite the overwhelming evidence against him. Though defense counsel may have formed his trial strategy based on the only reasonable chance for a more favorable verdict, he nonetheless overrode his client’s express objectives at both trials, thereby violating Flores’ Sixth Amendment rights.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/D073215.PDF