Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Illinois appellate court reverses conviction for ineffective assistance of cousel

In a rare victory for criminal defendants, the Chicago Daily Bulletin reports that the 5th District Appellate Court of Illinois has reversed two murder convictions finding that their trial attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to present any evidence.

In his opening statement, defense counsel said repeatedly that the defendants would testify in their defense and that the jury would hear testimony implicated other suspects and that the physical evidence in the case implicated those suspects but not the defendants. However, after the prosecution rested, defense counsel rested without presenting any evidence.

The Daily Bulleting states that "as for his failure to present any evidence, defense counsel said: ''I'll hope you forgive me for not extending the trial about another week and not putting on any evidence. I ask you not to hold that against my clients; that is my decision because I thought we've had enough.''

The trial court denied the defendants' post-trial motions, finding that defense counsel had conducted a ''significant and meaningful adversarial testing'' of the state's case.

On appeal, the defendants argued that their convictions should be reversed because their attorney was ineffective for failing to call any witnesses in their defense. The appeals court agreed and reversed. The appeals court said that counsel may be deemed ineffective ''if he promises that a particular witness will testify during his opening statement but does not provide the promised testimony during trial'' and that "[w]e cannot conclude . . . that the resulting prejudice was harmless.'' The Court also stated that "[a]fter promising and suggesting that the jury would hear evidence supporting the defense, counsel failed to present any evidence whatsoever and his stated reasons for failing to do so are not reasonable explanations.''

The case is People v Bryant and it is available here.

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