Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Second Circuit: State Defendant Denied the Effective Assistance of Counsel

State inmates who file federal writs of habeas corpus claiming they were denied their constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel at their state trial do not often succeed.

Today, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded that the federal writ must issue because the defendant was denied the effective assistance of counsel in his 1995 Queens County robbery trial. Wilson v. Mazzuca.

The Circuit Court's 25 page opinion sets forth in detail trial counsel's constitutional failures. What is most disturbing for me is the response of the New York State courts to the defendant's claims.

To his credit, the trial judge during the trial sua sponte raised serious constitutional concerns about defense counsel's performance. On appeal, however, the Appellate Division concluded without explanation that the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was "without merit." The Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal.

I have long maintained that the New York courts do not adequately address claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Only last month (May 5) I bemoaned a New York Court of Appeals decision regarding the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Second Circuit's decision today only serves to reinforce my concerns about the state courts.

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