Post-trial duties

NMCCA has decided United States v. Owens.

The appellant asserts that the attorney-client relationship with his detailed trial defense counsel was terminated without good cause, leaving the appellant legally and factually without post-trial representation.  The basis for the appellant’s claim is that substitute counsel failed to establish an attorney-client relationship with the appellant prior to receipt of the staff judge advocate’s recommendation (SJAR).

The court makes clear in footnote 3, that:

This case does not present a situation similar to that addressed by this court in United States v. Hutchins, 68 M.J. 623 (N.M.Ct.Crim.App. 2010), rev. granted, __ M.J. __ (C.A.A.F. June 7, 2010), a trial-level severance issue analyzed under R.C.M. 505 and 506.

In his unrebutted affidavit, Capt F stated that he was detailed in anticipation of Capt M’s departure.  Capt F stated that during this post-trial phase, he was in touch with Capt M, and that Capt M informed him that clemency matters had already been submitted.  Capt M also informed Capt F that Capt F was needed to receive the SJAR, but that no further substantive action would be required.  Capt F was under the impression that the previously submitted clemency request would be reviewed by the CA in due course.  Capt F stated that he made no attempt to contact the appellant, believing that his duties were “administrative in nature.”

However, NMCCA did not agree with that view of the situation.

Capt F did have an affirmative obligation pursuant to both R.C.M. 1106(f)(2) and Miller to form an attorney-client relationship with the appellant.  He was also obliged to take further action as required to protect the interests of the appellant.  The obligation to form the relationship, review the SJAR and take such action as required was not one that prospectively could be limited by what Capt F describes as Capt
M’s suggestion that no further action was required other than to receive the SJAR.

As best we can tell there was nothing meaningful that the substitute counsel could have done and he was there effectively for administrative purposes – on the facts of this case, because, “There is no colorable claim to prejudice in this case.”

On being detailed as substitute counsel post-trial the first step should be to make contact with the client.  Only then can counsel be certain that . . . .