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IL:Criminal Litigant must prove "actual innocence" in addition to legal malpractice

Paulsen v. Cochran, 356 Ill. App. 3d 354 (2005)

IL: Plea agreements, legal malpractice, actual innocence

Student Contributor: Rachel Vincent

Facts: Plaintiff Michael Paulsen is appealing the dismissal of his legal malpractice action against defendants. The complaint arose from the representation and sentence plaintiff received when he pled guilty to a drug offense in Arizona. The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint on defendant’s motion. The trial court found that plaintiff failed to plead and prove “actual innocent” as is required for a convicted person to state a cause of action for legal malpractice against his former criminal defense attorney. The Appellate Court affirmed.

Issue: Whether the actual innocence rule applies when the alleged malpractice resulted in an unfair penalty, not an improper conviction.

Ruling: The court held that plaintiff was not entitled to relief from his attorney for the excessive fine he received after pleading guilty to drug charges due to a miscalculation in the plea agreement. The court stated that even if the actual innocence rule did not apply client is barred from suing because he voluntarily signed the plea agreement and initialed sections stated he discussed the plea agreement with his attorney and understood the terms. Moreover, the find imposed was within the limit allowed by law.

Lesson: In addition to proving the elements of legal malpractice, a criminal litigant must also prove that he is actually innocent before he can sue his attorney for legal malpractice. 

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Posted in: Criminal Law, Illinois