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The U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 13 decided the following cases: The justices unanimously refused to grant a new trial to a man whose lawyer pleaded him guilty without his consent. Florida v. Nixon, No. 03-931. Setting aside the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to grant Joe Elton Nixon a new trial, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said that his trial attorney was not automatically considered ineffective simply because of a trial tactic that he deemed reasonable under the circumstances. Nixon was convicted in a 1984 kidnapping and murder. In an effort to win the jury’s sympathy for Nixon, who is mentally retarded, his attorney entered a guilty plea without his client’s consent. The jury voted for the death penalty. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial, ruling that by conceding guilt without his client’s explicit consent, the attorney had rendered ineffective assistance. However, according to Ginsburg, “Counsel cannot be deemed ineffective for attempting to impress the jury with his candor and his unwillingness to engage in a useless charade.” The justices ruled, 7-2, against a company that in 1981 bought land in Texas and then went to court to recover some of the $5 million it spent cleaning up pollution there. Cooper Industries v. Aviall Services, No. 02-1192 Reversing a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, the justices said that the company had improperly tried to use the Superfund law to sue because the government had not demanded the cleanup. Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the lower courts should reconsider whether to allow the lawsuit by Aviall Services against electrical product-maker Cooper Industries. Ginsburg and Justice John Paul Stevens dissented. The justices ruled unanimously that police have authority to arrest a person based on suspicion that later proves groundless, so long as officers had a second, valid reason for the detention. Devenpeck v. Alford, No. 03-710. Two Washington state patrol officers arrested Jerome Alford in 1997 for tape-recording their conversation during a traffic stop. They arrested him also, for the separate reason, which they did not tell him, that he appeared to be impersonating a police officer. The privacy charge was later dismissed on the ground that conversations between police and highway motorists are not private. The 9th Circuit said that the arrest was improper, ruling that the separate allegation was not sufficiently “closely related” to the initial offense. Reversing and remanding, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said that under the Fourth Amendment, an arrest is lawful if “reasonable” given all the facts at the time. Though officers were wrong about the tape-recording allegation, the suspicious circumstances in which the man appeared to be impersonating an officer could justify the arrest. The justices refused to decide whether Michigan can deny state-funded appeals to defendants who have pleaded guilty to a crime. Instead, they ruled, 6-3, that the two attorneys who sued over the law had no standing because they didn’t represent specific clients. Kowalski v. Tesmer, No. 03-407. In 1994, Michigan voters amended the state constitution to bar automatic appeals for defendants who plead guilty. The state claimed that Arthur Fitzgerald and Michael Vogler, who represent poor defendants, shouldn’t be included in the lawsuit because their claims were based on potential, not actual, clients. The attorneys claimed loss of income if the law went into effect. Writing for the court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that plaintiffs must represent their own interests. One exception is where the plaintiff has a “close relationship” with the person whose interests are at stake. However, “The attorneys . . . do not have a ‘close relationship’ with their alleged clients; indeed, they have no relationship at all.” Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer joined in the opinion with Scalia and Thomas. Stevens and David H. Souter joined Ginsburg’s dissent. -ALM, AP

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