Both the Massachusetts State Constitution and the United States Constitution protect criminal defendants’ right to be effectively represented by counsel during their prosecution. A convicted person who can demonstrate that their attorney was ineffective in representing them may be entitled to the reversal of a conviction, even when the defendant pleaded guilty to the charges against them. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently reversed a man’s conviction for sex trafficking charges after it came to light that his court-appointed defense attorney had been publishing extremely bigoted statements against both the religion and the race of the defendant to social media while he was representing the defendant.
According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the defendant in the case was a black man who was also a practicing Muslim. The defendant was unable to afford an attorney, and was appointed a public defendant to represent him through the prosecution. While representing the defendant, his attorney chastised him for wearing a Muslim prayer cap in the courthouse, made other derogatory statements toward the man’s race and religion, and told the defendant that he would be unable to obtain a different attorney if he tried. As a result of advice given to him by his attorney, the man pleaded guilty to the crimes against him and was sentenced to over seven years in state prison for his crimes.
Several years later, it was discovered that the defendant’s attorney had been publishing bigoted and derogatory statements toward both Muslims and nonwhite people throughout his time representing clients as a court-appointed attorney. Based upon this newly discovered information, the defendant requested a new trial, arguing that the biases of his attorney prevented him from effectively representing and advising the defendant. The trial judge rejected the defendant’s motion, finding that the defendant failed to demonstrate any actual prejudice to himself based upon the attorney’s personal controversial beliefs.