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NH: Legal Malpractice: The Innocent Guilty Plea (???)

Hilario v. Reardon, 158 N.H. 56 (2008).

NH: Underlying Criminal Procedure, Guilty Plea

Student Contributor: Peter J. Jannace

FACTS: Plaintiff was indicted on various charges; he then entered into a plea arrangement with the State which provided that if he met certain conditions, including cooperating in other prosecutions, the State would petition for the suspension of a portion of his sentence. After plaintiff served a portion of his minimal sentence, defendant who was representing him filed a motion to withdraw the plaintiff’s plea of guilty and request a trial. Plaintiff claimed that he was not aware of and did not authorize the motion. When the plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a motion to suspend a portion of his sentence pursuant to the plea agreement, the State objected, arguing that the plaintiff breached the plea agreement when he filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The trial court agreed with the State and ruled accordingly. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, pro se; the trial court dismissed the complaint, plaintiff appealed.

ISSUE: Are strategic or tactical decisions made by an attorney after the plea and sentencing of a client which are unrelated to the client’s conviction subject to Mahoney requirements (allege and prove actual innocence) in a client’s malpractice action for those decisions?

RULING:  No. Where “the questionable behavior is unrelated to the accused’s culpability for the underlying acts and is, in all relevant respects, unrelated to those acts, we are not convinced that Mahoney bars those claims.” A claimant need not allege and prove actual innocence to prevail in a malpractice suit.

LESSON: Although generally an ex-client in a malpractice action has a high proximate cause burden to satisfy if his/her attorney represented him/her in a criminal action, the burden is significantly lower if the alleged malpractice did not relate to the underlying acts that culminated into a conviction. 

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Posted in: Criminal Law, New Hampshire, Proximate Cause