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Deficient counsel does not overcome convincing evidence

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Even though the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals spelled out in a 17-page opinion what defense counsel should have done during a bench trial, the appellate panel ultimately concluded the deficient representation did not prejudice the case.

Roy Smith appealed the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana’s denial of his habeas petition to set aside his criminal conviction because of ineffective counsel. In Roy A. Smith v. Richard Brown, 12-3731, the 7th Circuit affirmed the denial of the habeas petition.

Smith, serving a 90-year sentence for murder in an Indiana state prison, was charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery after correctional officers saw him stab another inmate with half a pair of scissors.

James Cupp was appointed as Smith’s public defender. Smith continually complained to the trial court about Cupp’s performance, claiming the attorney was not filing the motions he wanted and was not communicating with him.

After he was convicted, Smith obtained a review by the Indiana Court of Appeals which found defense counsel did not mount a defense but ruled Smith had failed to show any prejudice from Cupp’s performance. Smith then filed a petition for post-conviction relief which was also denied.

The District Court considered Smith’s habeas petition and agreed with the Court of Appeals that Cupp’s behavior did not prejudice Smith.

At the 7th Circuit, the judges faulted Cupp on multiple counts. It noted at trial, the defense attorney failed to explore Smith’s self-defense motive, did not point out inconsistencies between the testimonies of two guards, and did not highlight to the trial court that none of the other inmates provided testimony and the victim himself refused to identify his attacker.

Moreover, the 7th Circuit criticized Cupp for offering a closing argument that was a little more than “just a throat-clearing exercise.”

However, the appellate panel pointed out the evidence was overwhelming against Smith, and Cupp did not abandon his client nor egregiously fail in his representation of the defendant.

“… against the overwhelming weight of the state’s evidence, he did not have many promising options,” Judge John Tinder wrote for the court. “Considering prejudice, or its absence, is particularly important when a lawyer’s deficient representation is at least in part influenced by the utter weakness of the defendant’s case.”

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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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