Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

WILLIAM GEORGE BONIN v. CALIFORNIA

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. 88-7381 110 S. Ct. 1506, 494 U.S. 1039, 108 L. Ed. 2d 641, 58 U.S.L.W. 3592, 1990.SCT.41298 <http://www.versuslaw.com> March 19, 1990 WILLIAM GEORGE BONINv.CALIFORNIA Sup. Ct. Cal. Reported below: 47 Cal.3d 808, 765 P.2d 460. ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA Rehnquist, Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy


Sup. Ct. Cal. Reported below: 47 Cal.3d 808, 765 P.2d 460. ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

Rehnquist, Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Disposition

 Certiorari denied.

JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

Adhering to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 231 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting), I would grant the petition for certiorari and vacate the death penalty in this case. Even if I did not take this view, I would grant the petition because it raises several important and recurring questions concerning a criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel unburdened by any conflict of interest. First, on what showing must a trial court explore a possible conflict on the part of a defendant's attorney? Second, if a defendant's attorney had an actual conflict, must the defendant demonstrate that the conflict adversely affected the attorney's performance in order to obtain a new trial?

I

On the eve of his trial for several murders and robberies, petitioner William George Bonin moved to replace Earl Hanson, who had been his attorney for over a year, with William Charvet. The prosecution opposed the motion principally on the ground that substituting Charvet would create two conflicts of interest that could jeopardize the effectiveness of Charvet's representation. First, Charvet had maintained an attorney-client relationship with James Munro, Bonin's alleged accomplice and a key prosecution witness against him, during which Charvet and Munro had discussed the facts of the case. Second, the prosecution maintained that Charvet's retainer agreement likely included a provision giving him the literary rights to Bonin's life story. The trial court initially denied Bonin's motion to substitute Charvet for Hanson, in large part because it found that Charvet's relationship with Munro created an actual conflict of interest. The court later permitted Charvet to represent Bonin, however, without addressing either conflict and without obtaining a waiver from Bonin of his right to conflict-free counsel.

Bonin subsequently was convicted of ten counts of murder and robbery and sentenced to death. The California Supreme Court, in a split decision, affirmed the convictions and sentence, rejecting Bonin's argument that Charvet's alleged and actual conflicts of interest deprived Bonin of effective assistance of counsel. The court held that the trial court did not err by failing to explore the alleged literary rights agreement because the trial court had not been presented with sufficient evidence of such an agreement. Although the state supreme court did find that the trial court erred in allowing Charvet's substitution after learning of his relationship with Munro, it refused to reverse the convictions and sentence on the ground that Bonin had not demonstrated that Charvet's performance as counsel was adversely affected by this conflict of interest.

II

I would grant Bonin's petition to determine whether the trial court had a duty to inquire into the potential conflict of interest arising from the alleged literary rights deal between Charvet and Bonin. It is well established that the right to effective assistance of counsel carries with it "a correlative right to representation that is free from conflicts of interest." Wood v. Georgia, 450 U.S. 261, 271 (1981). It is also apparent that a literary rights agreement may seriously undermine an advocate's loyalty to his client's interests. In a passage quoted in the California Supreme Court's opinion, the American Bar Association underscores the dangers of such arrangements:

"A grave conflict of interest can arise out of an arrangement between a lawyer and an accused to give to the lawyer the right to publish books, plays, articles, interviews or pictures, or related literary rights concerning the case. . . . [I]t may place the lawyer under temptation to conduct the defense with an eye on the literary aspects and its dramatic potential. If such an arrangement or contract is part of the fee, in lieu of the fee, or a condition of accepting the employment, it is especially reprehensible." ABA Project on Standards for Criminal Justice, Standards Relating to the Prosecution Function and the Defense Function, Comments to ยง 3.4 (1971).

To protect a defendant's right to conflict-free counsel, a trial court must initiate an inquiry when it knows or reasonably should know of the possibility of a conflict of interest. Wood v. Georgia, supra, at 272, and n. 18; see also Wheat v. United States, U.S. , , 108 S. Ct. 1692, 1697 (1988); Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 347 (1980). In Wood, the petitioners had been convicted of distributing obscene material. Their probation was revoked when they failed to pay substantial fines. This Court vacated the probation revocation because the trial court had failed to inquire into a possible conflict of interest on the part of the petitioners' attorney. The possibility of a conflict was apparent not from any concrete evidence, but from the circumstances of the representation. In particular, the petitioners' lawyer, who had been selected and paid by their employer, pressed a constitutional attack rather than arguing for leniency and a reduction in the fines, possibly to create a test case for the petitioners' employer. Wood v. Georgia, supra, at 272. Moreover, this Court found that the "the fact that the State raised the conflict problem explicitly and requested that the court look into it" should have alerted the trial court to the need for further inquiry. Id., at 273. The Court held that although it was difficult to determine from the appellate record whether an actual conflict was present, "the possibility of a conflict of interest was sufficiently apparent at the time of the revocation hearing to impose upon the court a duty to inquire further." Id., at 272.

The California Supreme Court departed from Wood in this case by holding that a defendant must present hard evidence to trigger a trial court's duty to investigate a potential conflict of interest. The possibility of a conflict here was at least as apparent as it was in Wood. Bonin, though indigent, was able to hire a private attorney on the eve of the trial in a highly-publicized and notorious case. The prosecution specifically objected to the substitution of Charvet because of the likelihood that the retainer agreement included a literary rights deal. When the court asked Charvet whether he had made such a deal with Bonin, he answered evasively, asserting that the prosecution had no right to inquire into his fee arrangement and that this Court would sanction any literary rights agreement. Despite the clear ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.