Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

A short piece from the ABA Journal:

Lawyers for a criminal defendant were not constitutionally required to predict the demise of bullet analysis that was once widely accepted, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week in a per curiam opinion.

The Oct. 5 decision (PDF) reinstates the murder conviction of James Kulbicki, convicted for the 1993 fatal shooting of his mistress, the Baltimore Sunreports. Maryland’s top court had cited ineffective assistance of counsel when it overturned Kulbicki’s conviction.

An FBI agent had testified in Kulbicki’s 1995 trial about a match between the lead in bullet fragments found in the victim’s brain and in Kulbicki’s truck. Maryland’s Court of Appeals said Kulbicki’s lawyers should have found a 1991 report by the FBI agent that found matches from lead coming from separately packaged bullets, a finding that “presaged the flaws” in bullet match evidence.

The report, however, did not question the validity of bullet lead analysis, and the forensic technique was widely accepted at the time, the U.S. Supreme Court said.

A compilation of forensic studies that included the FBI agent’s report had been distributed to various public libraries at the time. “But which ones?” the Supreme Court asked. “And in an era of card catalogues, not a worldwide web, what efforts would counsel have had to expend to find the compilation?”

The court said the Maryland ruling was akin to asking the lawyers to go looking for a needle in a haystack. “The Court of Appeals demanded something close to ‘perfect advocacy,’ ” the Supreme Court said, “far more than the’ reasonable competence’ the right to counsel guarantees.”

Hat tip to How Appealing.


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