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Supreme Court upholds individual rights in two criminal justice cases

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled to defend the right of a defendant to select their plea in court and the privacy of rental car drivers outside the person who rented the vehicle Monday. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

By Daniel Uria, UPI

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled to uphold individual rights in a pair of criminal justice cases Monday.

The court ruled defendants have the right to determine how they choose to plea and that a driver of a rental car has reasonable expectation of privacy at a traffic stop even if their name isn't listed on the rental agreement.

In the first case, McCoy vs. Louisiana, the court voted 6-3 to overturn defendant Robert McCoy's death sentence after his private attorney, Larry English, entered a guilty plea despite McCoy's constant objections.

"Guaranteeing a defendant the right 'to have the assistance of counsel for his defense,' the Sixth Amendment so demands," the court said. "With individual liberty -- and, in capital cases, life -- at stake, it is the defendant's prerogative, not counsel's, to decide on the objective of his defense: to admit guilt in the hope of gaining mercy at the sentencing stage, or to maintain his innocence, leaving it to the State to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

McCoy went on trial in 2011 for the shooting deaths of his estranged wife's son, mother and stepfather.

He denied being responsible for the killings and his parents hired English after he failed to agree on a plea with his public defenders.

English told McCoy he planned to plead guilty on his behalf in exchange for a life sentence in hopes of sparing him the death penalty, but McCoy insisted he was innocent and was being framed in retaliation for revealing that local police were involved in a drug ring.

English went ahead with his plan to admit McCoy's guilt, believing the evidence against McCoy was overwhelming and telling the jury he was "crazy" and lives in a "fantasy world."

The plan ultimately was unsuccessful as McCoy was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Louisiana courts went on to uphold the conviction, rejecting the claim that English's decision to enter a guilty plea against McCoy's wishes violated the Constitution.

The court ruled McCoy should receive a new trial as English blocked his "right to make the fundamental choices about his own defense" and the admission of guilt likely swayed the lawyer's decision.

The Supreme Court also reached a unanimous agreement in the case of Byrd vs. United States, ruling a driver who has permission to use a rental car is entitled to the same Fourth Amendment protections as the driver who rented the car.

The court ruled in favor of Terrence Byrd, who faced federal charges after police found body armor and 49 bricks of heroin in his trunk as he was driving a rental car his fiancée Latasha Reed rented.

Byrd was stopped for a traffic infraction while driving the rental car, when police found he had prior drug and weapons convictions and conducted a search of the vehicle without obtaining a warrant.

Police argued Byrd had no right to privacy because the rental company hadn't given him permission to operate the vehicle, but the Supreme Court ruled that defense "rests on too restrictive a view of the Fourth Amendment's protections."

"As anyone who has rented a car knows, car-rental agreements are filled with long lists of restrictions, the court said. "For Fourth Amendment purposes there is no meaningful difference between the authorized-driver provision and the other provisions the government agrees do not eliminate an expectation of privacy."

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U.S. - U.S. Daily News: Supreme Court upholds individual rights in two criminal justice cases
Supreme Court upholds individual rights in two criminal justice cases
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