New opinion: stipulating to jurisdictional elements of crime doesn’t violate Sixth Amendment

US v. Wilson—criminal—affirmance—Bibas

Although defendants have the right to decide to maintain their factual innocence, the Sixth Amendment does not prevent their lawyers from stipulating to jurisdictional elements of crimes even over their clients’ objections, the Third Circuit held today:

Criminal defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to choose the ultimate objectives of their defense. That includes the right to maintain their factual innocence, even if their lawyers advise them to admit guilt. But their lawyers call the shots on the tactics used to achieve those objectives. Defense lawyers may thus stipulate to the jurisdictional elements of crimes without their clients’ consent or over their clients’ objection.

The convictions were for robbing federally insured banks, a crime which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the bank was federally insured. The court rejected the defendants’ arguments that, under McCoy v. Lousiana, stipulating to a jurisdictional element over without the client’s consent or over their objection necessarily deprived the defendants of effective assistance of counsel.

The court also rejected a slew of other challenges to the petitioner’s convictions, holding that:

  • the vehicle stop that led to their arrest was not impermissibly extended
  • use of cell-site location data was proper under the good-faith exception
  • refusing to sever the joint trial was not plain error,
  • failing to grant a mistrial after a witness said the defendants had a history of drug dealing,
  • the prosecution did not improperly vouch for its witnesses’ credibility,
  • the evidence was sufficient, and
  • various sentencing challenges

Joining Bibas were Hardiman and Greenaway. The case was decided without oral argument.