A daunting legal ethics dilemma death penalty lawyers sometimes face is what to do when a death row client decides to give up on collateral attacks on conviction or sentence and submit to execution. The lawyer may see legitimate legal strategies to prevent execution or even grounds for a new trial. Yet the client insists, citing the burdens of living on death row.
Maj. Nidal Hassan is the army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people in Texas and who is now on trial at Fort Hood, representing himself. Lawyers have been appointed to assist him as standby counsel. They believe he is aiming for a death sentence and they do not want to be part of that plan. If they were representing him, they'd have greater control over the defense, but they aren't representing him. Some may recall that similar issues arose in the Unabomber case.
"It becomes clear his goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty," Kris Poppe, the lead standby lawyer, told the judge. He called that strategy "repugnant to defense counsel and contrary to our professional obligations."
So the lawyers either want the judge (Col. Tara Obsborn) to revoke Hassan's right to represent himself or to reduce or eliminate their role. She has refused, no doubt concerned that with no lawyers at all for Hassan to consult, she may be setting the stage for a reversal in the event of conviction.
Col. Michael Mulligan, the prosecutor, views it differently. By admitting that he was the shooter, Hassan is conceding a fact that cannot be contested. Mulligan sees no "moral dilemma." It's not clear from press reports that this admission is the sole basis for the defense lawyers' effort.
The lawyers are going to appeal. It seems to me that if they lose, they have to stay put or accept the professional consequences.