A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Moussaoui lawyers say secrecy rules prevented adequate defense

[JURIST] Zacarias Moussaoui [JURIST news archive] had his rights violated when a federal judge mandated secrecy rules that prevented his lawyers from showing him classified evidence, according to a brief [PDF text] asking for Moussaoui's guilty plea to be overturned. In the brief, filed in January but recently unsealed, lawyers for Moussaoui say that:

Moussaoui appeals because his plea was involuntary, unknowing, uncounselled, and invalid under the federal rules. Before he pled, the district court entered a number of patently unconstitutional rulings that deprived Moussaoui of core Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. Moussaoui appeals because, for instance, on the incomplete information he had been shown and permitted to discuss with his lawyers, he believed he had no choice other than to plead guilty. He also appeals because the jury found him death eligible in violation of the Federal Death Penalty Act and the Eighth Amendment, and this incorrect finding dictated the sentence he received.

This appeal thus puts in stark relief the guarantee that every defendant in an Article III criminal case is to be afforded the same protections guaranteed under the Constitution. To affirm this judgment, the Court would have to uphold, among other things, each of the following:
  • A district court may bar a criminal defendant from hiring a lawyer not approved by the Government;
  • A district court may prohibit a criminal defendant from personally reviewing evidence the court finds to be material and exculpatory;
  • A district court may restrict a criminal defendant from discussing with his own lawyer evidence that the court finds to be discoverable, and/or material and exculpatory;
  • A district court may exclude a criminal defendant from hearings relating to the admissibility of trial evidence;
  • A guilty plea may be valid even where the defendant's lawyer was not permitted to explain to his or her client why the lawyer was recommending against pleading;
  • A guilty plea may be valid even when the defendant is confused about the charges to which he is pleading;
  • A guilty plea may be valid even where a district court fails to hold a competency hearing in the face of evidence requiring one. ...
The defense asks that Moussaoui's plea and sentence be vacated and that a new trial be ordered.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in April 2005 to six conspiracy charges [indictment] in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to destroy aircraft and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. He received a life sentence [JURIST report] last year after one juror refused to agree to the death penalty [JURIST report]. He is currently serving his life sentence in the federal Supermax prison in Colorado. AP has more.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.