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Clients With Bad Lawyers Get Good Treatment From 6th Circuit

Defendants facing the death penalty in the 6th Circuit may want to consider hiring the worst lawyer they can find. Perhaps that sounds counterintuitive, but according to this article from the Cincinnati Enquirer (4/16/07), ineffective assistance cases accounted for 54 percent of all appeals won by death row inmates in the 6th Circuit.

An Enquirer analysis found that in the past seven years, 15 death row inmates prevailed on appeals of their sentences based all or in part on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Some of the mistakes are egregious, while others just seem trivial. For example, in some cases, lawyers never spoke to their clients or failed to hire experts, read documents or interview their own witnesses. Those are serious infractions. But the article also mentions that two lawyers broke out in laughter during arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court. It's hard to see how failure to maintain proper decorum in court could justify overturning a capital sentence (presumably, these cases involved other misconduct or incompetence).

But is the problem incompetent defense lawyers? Or are courts using minor errors as a way to overturn death sentences? And finally, there's a possibility that the article doesn't consider: Might a clever but overworked defense attorney commit error intentionally to spare his client a capital sentence? Perhaps in some instances, providing ineffective assistance of counsel provides the accused with the most effective defense against a death sentence.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 16, 2007 at 07:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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