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A criminal defense attorney didn’t have to follow his client’s novel interpretation of a passport fraud law in order to provide effective assistance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Jan. 27 ( United States v. Vyner , 2017 BL 24562, D.C. Cir., No. 14-3091, 1/27/17 ).
The attorney’s advice that the defendant plead guilty to passport fraud under 18 U.S.C. §1546(a) was reasonably competent, the decision by Judge Judith W. Rogers found.
The dispute centered on an open question in the D.C. Circuit: whether the statute covers foreign passports.
The D.C. Circuit didn’t answer this question. But both the Second and Fifth circuits have found that the statute does apply to foreign passports, and no other circuit has ruled otherwise, the court said.
David Vyner, who admitted he knowingly had an altered foreign passport, argued that the attorney should have interpreted the statute as not applying to him.
But he offered no evidence that other defense attorneys were successfully challenging the Second and Fifth circuits’ interpretation of the law, the court said.
Vyner’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim therefore failed, the court found.
Judge Patricia A. Millett joined the opinion.
Judge Janice Rogers Brown concurred in the judgment.
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