Balancing the Sixth Amendment on the scales of justice: is the lawyer or the client in control of the proceedings?

Author:Levine, Caroline Johnson
Position:Chief judge Lawrence H. Cooke Eighth Annual State Constitutional Commentary Symposium

After declaring its independence from England on July 4, 1776, the United States began drafting a written expression of its desire to create a national government and ratified the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781. However, in order to create a stronger central government, the Articles of Confederation were replaced with the United States Constitution on March 4, 1789. Soon thereafter, the First United States Congress and the States ratified the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution on December 15, 1791. (1) These amendments are routinely referred to as the "Bill of Rights." (2) Authored by James Madison, the Bill of Rights were created in an effort to guarantee individual freedoms, limit federal power, and reserve power to the States. (3) The United States Constitution has been the legal guidepost of every American citizen's rights for over two hundred years. Impressively, the plain language of the Constitution is as clear to the modern day practitioner as it was in the eighteenth century. However, the privileges granted by the Bill of Rights are routinely debated in state and federal courts. (4) As seemingly novel issues are litigated in courtrooms throughout the fifty states, the judicial branch has been tasked with interpreting the Constitution's controlling text.

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that every citizen arrested for a criminal offense has the right to utilize a defense attorney, who may provide legal representation throughout the term of the proceedings. (5) However, if a criminal defendant facing severe penalties chooses to accept the services of an attorney, the defendant forfeits his ability to make certain decisions that affect the course and nature of his criminal defense. (6)

In Puglisi v. State, the Florida Supreme Court recently interpreted the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution to hold that a criminal defendant cannot decide for himself the manner in which he will present his criminal defense. (7) In fact, Puglisi establishes that every defendant who retains the services of an attorney must relinquish a great deal of decision-making authority in his criminal case. (8)

Vincent Puglisi was a criminal defendant who was charged with the brutal murder of Alan Shalleck. (9) Shalleck was a seventy six year old man who had spent many years in show business and had show business friends. (10) Jerry Stiller, who played Frank Costanza on the sitcom Seinfeld and is the father of the actor Ben Stiller, was a college friend of Shalleck and had spoken on the telephone with Shalleck on the evening of the murder. (11) Additionally, Shalleck's uncle presided over the wedding of Jerry Stiller. (12) However, Shalleck's real claim to fame was his collaboration with the author of Curious George, Margaret Rey, which resulted in the creation of an animated series for television in the 1980s. (13) Additionally, Shalleck co-authored twenty eight Curious George books with Rey. (14) Unfortunately, Shalleck mismanaged his income into personal bankruptcy and moved into a trailer in Boynton Beach, Florida. (15)

Puglisi and Rex Ditto answered a personal ad in a newspaper placed by Shalleck. (16) Subsequently, Puglisi and Ditto were invited into Shalleck's residence and proceeded to beat, choke, and stab Shalleck. (17) Shalleck "died from multiple stab wounds and blunt head trauma, having received eighty-three blunt force injuries and thirty-seven sharp force injuries." (18) Puglisi and Ditto covered Shalleck in trash bags and left Shalleck's body on his driveway. (19) Additionally, Puglisi and Ditto stole Shalleck's jewelry, coins, and checkbook. (20)

Puglisi and Ditto were both charged with first degree murder and robbery, which made each defendant eligible for the death penalty. (21) Ditto pled guilty to his criminal charges and received a life sentence. (22) Puglisi requested a jury trial and was found guilty. (23) He avoided the death penalty because the trial judge believed that Puglisi should receive the same life sentence that Ditto received. (24)

Puglisi and Ditto were initially identified as suspects in Shalleck's murder when law enforcement officers discovered evidence of Puglisi's prior phone calls to Shalleck. (25) Police detectives met with Puglisi and informed him of his Miranda rights. (26) During Puglisi's initial interview, he claimed to have no knowledge of the Shalleck murder and inferred that Ditto may have been involved in Shalleck's demise. (27) However, during a second interview, Puglisi admitted to participating in the murder of Shalleck. (28)

During Puglisi's murder trial, his defense attorneys wrestled with the decision of whether or not to have Ditto testify on behalf of Puglisi. (29) Puglisi's attorney represented to the court that "we learned that Mr. Ditto is prepared to testify that Mr. Puglisi did nothing, that he--Mr. Ditto is the sole one responsible for the death of Mr. Shalleck and that he lied in the past [and implicated Puglisi] because of [Ditto's] fear of the death penalty." (30) Puglisi's defense attorney and the prosecutor both represented to the court that Ditto had verbally vacillated, to attorneys and other witnesses, regarding whether Puglisi was guilty or innocent of Shalleck's murder. (31) Due to Ditto's inconsistent statements and the probability of his extensive impeachment on the witness stand, Puglisi's defense attorneys represented to the court that they would not present Ditto's testimony to the jury. (32) However, Puglisi insisted to the trial court that he wished to have Ditto testify as a defense witness. (33) Puglisi's defense attorneys argued that preventing Ditto's testimony was a "strategic decision" by the defense team. (34) The trial court chose to accept the strategy of Puglisi's defense attorneys and Ditto was not allowed to testify to the jury. (35)

Puglisi appealed his criminal conviction to Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal and argued that it was error for the trial court to refuse to allow Puglisi to "call Ditto as a witness despite defense counsel's determination that calling Ditto would not be of benefit to Puglisi's case." (36) The appellate court dismissed...

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