Friday, August 11, 2006

Why can't an accused plead guilty to capital murder?

There has to be something wrong if a defendant like this who is accused of capital murder cannot plead guilty. In most cases where the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, it does little to help a defendant avoid the death penalty at the sentencing phase if he cannot show at least the beginnings of remorse by acknowledging his culpability, especially where a jury will shortly thereafter determine whether there are sufficient mitigating circumstances precluding eligibility for death. The idea that he will be better off hoping for error as he requires the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt seems highly speculative and very shaky to me. It is far more probable that the presentation of graphic, emotionally devastating evidence of guilt to a jury who believes the defendant is denying obvious guilt will create a hanging mood before the sentencing phase begins. Although the rest of this story offers some possible explanations, my sympathies extend to the defendant who tried to enter an immediate plea of guilty. There is nothing stopping a subsequent psychological examination regarding mental capacity, etc. Guilty pleas can be withdrawn if improvidently entered.

Haq tries to enter guilty plea By Natalie Singer Seattle Times staff reporter

Naveed Afzal Haq, accused in the Jewish Federation shootings, confers with his attorney C. Wesley Richards on Thursday. The man accused of killing one woman and wounding five others at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle surprised everyone in the courtroom, including his own attorney, when he attempted to plead guilty Thursday to nine felonies, including a charge that could result in the death penalty.

But after objections from Naveed Afzal Haq's attorney, who said he was concerned about Haq's mental competency, the judge ordered the arraignment to be continued until Tuesday, and no pleas were entered. After the charges against him were read aloud in King County Superior Court on Thursday morning, Haq turned and whispered into the ear of defense attorney C. Wesley Richards."My client has indicated he would like to enter guilty pleas," Richards told Judge Michael Trickey. "I have concerns about his reasoning."


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