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Abstract 00/01 - 01

Summary of Facts Provided

When arraigning in-custody defendants, a municipal court tells the defendants that if they plead not guilty they will meet with a city public defender within a few hours. In such cases, the city attorney writes a plea offer and gives it to the city public defender. The city public defender then meets with the defendant for five to ten minutes. The city public defender explains to the defendant his or her right to trial, right to bond, and the nature of the plea offer. If the defendant is an immigrant, the city public defender inquires of his or her status, and advises the defendant of the possible consequences of a conviction upon his or her immigration status. Regarding that status, the city public defender also tells the defendant that without additional information, it is uncertain which of the possible consequences will occur. Generally, there is little or no time to discuss the defendant's entire side of the case during this initial meeting.

If the defendant subsequently pleads guilty, no further services are provided to the defendant. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a file is opened by the city public defender and the city public defender represents the defendant at the bond hearing.

If the defendant remains in custody, the city public defender is appointed to represent him or her. If the defendant is released from custody, the defendant returns to court the following day and may apply for a city public defender.

Issues and Conclusions

Is an attorney/client relationship established by these short meetings with a defendant? If so, what parameters, if any, may the city public defender establish regarding the extent of the advice given? Is it ethical to act primarily as an option-provider and not as legal advisor during these five to ten minute meetings? Is the immigration advice ethically sufficient?

An attorney/client relationship is established by these short meetings between the city public defender and a defendant. The city public defender may limit the scope of future representation by time and custody status of the defendant. During the initial meeting, the city public defender is ethically required to provide competent representation, to act with reasonable diligence, to protect the confidentiality of information, and to exercise independent professional judgment. The advice provided concerning the defendant's immigration status may not be legally adequate and therefore may not be ethically adequate. The defendant should be informed that he or she should not enter a plea until the likely immigration consequences are known.