Pleading Guilty to Manslaughter in California (Example Case)

In People v. Jones (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1115, counsel, "over the objection of the defendant, who insisted on proclaiming his innocence," conceded the defendant's killing of the victim but argued that he was guilty only of manslaughter. (Ibid.) On appeal, the defendant asserted that counsel had "in effect presented a plea of guilty to voluntary manslaughter, thereby usurping defendant's right to decide whether or not to enter such a plea." (Ibid.) The court rejected defendant's argument, finding that People v. Frierson (1985) did not apply because " 'the record did not show that any defense the defendant wished to present had credible evidentiary support.' " (Ibid.) Therefore the defendant's right to "make the 'fundamental' decisions regarding his defense" was not violated when counsel elected "not to argue defendant's innocence" but to pursue "the only strategy with any chance of success." (Id. at p. 1140)