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7th Circuit: counsel assistance wasn't ineffective

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A defendant didn't receive ineffective assistance of counsel when his attorneys failed to raise the issue of comments made by his victim's mother during the trial, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

Terry Brown challenged the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief and the District Court's denial of his petition for habeas corpus. During his murder trial, the mother of one of his victims said that "the situation was racist" while she was observing the trial, and while out on the courthouse steps, she said that the courthouse should be treated similarly to the World Trade Center and bombed. She made the comments shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

Brown's trial counsel declined to request a hearing to determine the impact of the statements on the jury. His appellate counsel didn't raise the issue on appeal.

In order to prevail on his ineffective assistance of counsel claims, Brown had to prove the assistance was objectively unreasonable and resulted in a substantial risk of prejudice, but he failed to prove either.

Given that both Brown and his victim are African-American, it's not clear how the jury would interpret the remark in a manner injurious to Brown, wrote Judge Richard Cudahy in Terry C. Brown v. Alan Finnan, No. 08-3151. In addition, the jury may or may not have heard the comment, so it's reasonable for counsel to not elect to request a hearing following the mother's comments.

"An able attorney might well conclude that his client's cause would best be served by not drawing the jury's attention to issues that are largely, if not completely, irrelevant to his client's guilt or innocence," wrote the judge.

The Circuit Court disagreed with Brown's argument that Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227, 229 (1954), compels a hearing.

With regards to the mother's comments outside the courthouse, Brown hadn't made any showing that any jurors heard or knew of the comments about bombing the courthouse. He just alleged a juror may have heard the comment, which is an insufficient basis for establishing a Remmer hearing. And even if there was some evidence a juror heard the comments, it's not clear that they would have prejudiced Brown, wrote Judge Cudahy.

Brown also failed in his claim for ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. There's no evidence any juror heard the mother's comments outside the courthouse and her in-court comment on the situation was ambiguous and innocuous. There was no need for a hearing and a reasonable appellate counsel could wisely disregard the mother's statements in favor of the issues that weigh on Brown's guilt and sentence.

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  1. For many years this young man was "family" being my cousin's son. Then he decided to ignore my existence and that of my daughter who was very hurt by his actions after growing up admiring, Jason. Glad he is doing well, as for his opinion, if you care so much you wouldn't ignore the feelings of those who cared so much about you for years, Jason.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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