Friday, September 3, 2010

Illinois Ct of Appeals issues two opinions reversing convictions because of ineffective assistance of counsel

Ineffective assistance of counsel is a contention that is often raised by defendants on appeal and in the vast majority of cases it is rejected. Yet, the Illinois Court of Appeals has recently announced two opinions in which it has reversed convictions based on the deficient conduct of the defendants' attorneys.

The first case is called People v Baines and it is available here. It was announced about two weeks ago, although, apparently it is a corrected version of an opinion originally written back in March. If it was announced back in March, I must admit I missed it then, so I am looking at it for the first time.

In Baines, the court concluded that the record was "replete with examples of unusual behavior by defense counsel" and that, thus, it was "evident . . . that there is merit to the defendant’s contention that his representation fell below an acceptable standard."

Among other things, the court found that during his direct examination, it was the defendant who was trying to guide the attorney in how to conduct the questioning in order to elicit relevant information. The court also noted that the attorney elicited from the defendant a damning admission and that "the gravity of the harm caused by this evidence was lost on defense counsel, as he continued to question his own client in a manner which bolstered the State’s case." In the opinion, the court cites the trial transcript extensively and describes the trial in detail to support its conclusion that the attorney's representation was completely inadequate.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Theis argued that although trial counsel rendered a deficient representation during the course of the trial, the defendant was not prejudiced.

The second case is called People v. Mescall and it is available here. In this case, the court reversed the trial court's judgment dismissing defendant's postconviction petition and remanded for further proceedings on the ground that defendant presented an arguable basis that counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the trial court's error in imposing mandatory consecutive sentences.

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