The Justice Department said Tuesday that it will no longer ask criminal defendants who plead guilty to waive their right to claim that their attorney was ineffective and deprived them of their constitutional right to a competent counsel.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the new policy, his latest effort to reform the criminal justice system, is an attempt to ensure that all individuals who face criminal charges are ably represented.
“Everyone in this country who faces criminal legal action deserves the opportunity to make decisions with the assistance of effective legal counsel,” Holder said in a statement. “Under this policy, no defendant will have to forego their right to able representation in the course of pleading guilty to a crime.”
Some U.S. attorney’s offices no longer ask defendants to waive their right to make future claims about the effectiveness of their counsel. But before this week, 35 of the Justice Department’s 94 U.S. attorney’s offices still did.
“I am confident in the ability of our outstanding prosecutors to ably and successfully perform their duties without the use of these waivers, as the vast majority of them already do,” Holder said.
The new policy is one of several initiatives Holder wanted to put in place before he steps down as attorney general. Although he announced Sept. 25 that he would resign as soon as a successor was confirmed by the Senate, President Obama is not expected to nominate his pick until after the midterm elections. The individuals who continue to be mentioned as the top contenders for the job include Solicitor General Don Verrilli Jr., former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole informed all federal prosecutors about the new policy on Tuesday morning.
“The criminal justice system is best served when parties have competent and unbiased legal representation,” Cole said in a statement.
A memo by Cole directs federal prosecutors to no longer ask criminal defendants to waive their future claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in plea agreements. It also instructs federal prosecutors to stop enforcing waivers that have already been signed in cases where defense counsel provided ineffective assistance that resulted in prejudice or where the defendant’s claim raises a serious issue that a court should resolve.
“I am certain that this more consistent policy will help to bring our system of justice closer in line with our most fundamental values and highest ideals,” Holder said.