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Name: People v. Hernandez
Case #: S178823
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 04/19/2012
Summary

Where a trial court order prevents counsel from consulting with his client regarding a specific piece of evidence, the error is reversible only upon a showing of prejudice. Appellant and three others were charged with attempted murder following a shooting. Two of the four pled guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. As part of their plea agreement, they were required to execute a declaration regarding the events of the offense. The trial court ordered the declarations sealed and not to be released to defense counsel unless the declarants testified and, even then, defense counsel were ordered not to disclose the content to their clients, or other parties. The Supreme Court accepted the parties’ opinion that the trial court erred by prohibiting the attorneys from discussing the contents of the declarations with their clients. However, it disagreed with the appellate court ruling that the error was reversible per se. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel includes the right to effective counsel. With respect to this right, a violation of the Sixth Amendment is not complete until the defendant has been prejudiced. Although there may be some instances where a restriction on attorney-client communication is so profound as to justify reversal per se, such is not the case here. In this case, the trial court’s order, at most, prevented defense counsel from fully discussing anticipated testimony of the prosecution witness with his client. Under such circumstances, a presumption of prejudice is not justified and the error is not reversible absent a showing by appellant that but for the error, the result would have been different.