Update: The verdict is in and Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her daughter. Her defense counsel was clearly not incompetent after all!
Casey Anthony is on trial for her life in a Florida courtroom for the murder of her young daughter. Could her inexperienced attorney’s courtroom missteps actually be part of a strategy to set up a claim for ineffectiveness of counsel?
As the ABA Journal reports, Anthony’s defense lawyer, Jose Baez, has only practiced since 2005 and has never led a death penalty case. He has made several faux pas in court and is taking hits from legal analysts.
The Orlando Sentinel lists several of Baez’s courtroom “mishaps” and “miscalculations,” including that he failed to timely raise the issue of blocking jurors from seeing portions of recorded jail visits and the judge had to remind Baez that it is the judge, and not the lawyer, who tells witnesses they may step down from the stand.
Some are wondering whether Baez is intentionally making these errors as part of a trial strategy for a case with very bad facts for the defense, i.e., setting up a claim of ineffective counsel.
Criminal defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. A defendant who believes that he or she was prejudiced by ineffective assistance may petition for federal habeas corpus relief.
Courts use a two-part test to determine whether or not counsel’s assistance was ineffective (Strickland v Washington (1984) 466 US 668, 80 L Ed 2d 674, 104 S Ct 2052):
- Were counsel’s actions objectively unreasonable?
- Was there a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different?
It’s hard to believe that an attorney would use a defense strategy of feigning incompetence, but stranger things have happened in courtrooms.
What do you think? If it is a strategy, could it work?
To learn about arguing ineffective assistance of trial counsel on appeal, go to CEB’s Appeals and Writs in Criminal Cases, chap 4. Also check out chapter 9 on writs of habeas corpus.
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