Who gets to decide on the defendant’s defense in a California criminal trial? The answer is, it is nuanced, and depends —some decisions are up to the lawyer, while others are left to the client. In a recent California case, the appeals court clarified whether the lawyer can admit that a defendant committed an act over the defendant’s objection.
In the case, the defendant was charged with the unlawful possession of weapons, and later with deliberately driving his car into a police officer while the officer was conducting a traffic stop. The officer was seriously injured, but survived. The defendant allegedly drove away, left the car, and went to a train station parking lot. He was arrested there, and later made incriminating statements to cellmates.
Before trial, the defendant told the court about his displeasure with his lawyer, saying that the lawyer wanted “to make him admit to something that [he] didn’t want to admit.” During the trial, the lawyer admitted that the defendant was driving the car, and argued that the defendant never had the premeditated intent to kill which was necessary to sustain a first-degree attempted murder conviction. The defendant objected to his lawyer’s admission that he was driving the car that injured the officer. At a later trial on the charges of weapons possession, the defendant objected when his lawyer admitted that he possessed certain firearms, and argued that he did not knowingly possess them because he did not understand the unlawful nature of the weapons.