WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a 7th Circuit ruling that a defense attorney shirked his duties to a man charged with murder by literally phoning it in. Joseph Van Patten claimed his lawyer violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by participating in a critical court proceeding via speaker phone.
The federal appeals court ruled that Van Patten’s attorney should have been physically present when he entered a no-contest plea to a reduced charge of first-degree reckless homicide.
The Supreme Court reversed the decision without ruling on the merits of Van Patten’s ineffective counsel claim.
“Even if we agree with Van Patten that a lawyer physically present will tend to perform better than one on the phone, it does not necessarily follow that mere phone contact amounted to total absence,” the opinion states. See ruling.