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Arnold & Porter Secures Pro Bono Victory Defending Client’s Right to Counsel

December 27, 2021

On December 21, 2021, an Arnold & Porter pro bono team convinced a federal court to vacate the conviction and life sentence of a man who had been convicted in violation of the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of effective trial counsel. The case reaffirms Arnold & Porter's decades-long commitment to ensuring that criminal defendants have access to adequate representation—including the firm's pathbreaking work in the landmark Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, argued by Arnold & Porter founding partner Abe Fortas, which secured the constitutional right to counsel.

In 2012, prior to the firm's involvement, the man had been interrogated by federal agents, who elicited incriminating statements without providing Miranda warnings regarding his right to remain silent and have an attorney present. The man was subsequently arrested on federal felony charges, but his court-appointed trial lawyer did not seek to have those statements suppressed. As a result, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2015.

After two pro se (un-lawyered) attempts to overturn the conviction were unsuccessful, Arnold & Porter intervened and crafted an effective strategy for the client's appeal. In December 2020, Appellate and Supreme Court associate Sam Callahan successfully argued in the Fourth Circuit that the case should be sent back to the trial court for a hearing to determine whether the client's interrogation had been "custodial," which would mean that Miranda warnings were required. The Arnold & Porter team then represented the client in his evidentiary hearing. The team, led by Callahan, introduced testimony from the client and other witnesses supporting his account of the interrogation; Callahan cross-examined a federal agent who conducted the interrogation and the client's trial lawyer, who had failed to seek suppression of the incriminating statements.

In December 2021, the trial court granted relief to the client, adopting Arnold & Porter's arguments in full. The court determined that government agents had failed to give Miranda warnings in a custodial interrogation, and that the client's trial lawyer had acted unreasonably by failing to seek suppression of the un-Mirandized statements. The court determined that the client must be released in January 2022 unless the government tries to re-prosecute him or appeal the ruling.

The Arnold & Porter pro bono team included Appellate and Supreme Court partner Allon Kedem and associate Sam Callahan; and White Collar Defense & Investigations co-chair Amy Jeffress and associate Amanda Claire Hoover.