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Law School Case Brief

Miller v. Anderson - 255 F.3d 455 (7th Cir. 2001)

Rule:

Tactics are the essence of the conduct of litigation; much scope must be allowed to counsel, but if no reason is or can be given for a tactic, the label tactic will not prevent it from being used as evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Facts:

Miller lived with two teenagers convicted of rape, torture, and murder. One of the teenagers implicated and testified against Miller as part of a plea agreement. Miller's defense was that he was not present at the scene of the crime. Miller's counsel made several mistakes during trial. There was a reasonable possibility, and not a negligible possibility, that Miller may have been acquitted had counsel not made several irresponsible errors in representation. For example, counsel did not produce expert testimony that would have established that hair found on the victim was not Miller's hair. Also, counsel erred in allowing Miller's psychologist to testify. Psychologist was supposed to testify that Miller would not have committed such crimes. However, Miller had been convicted of similar crimes before and counsel knew that. Those prior convictions were presented to the jury during cross-examination. Miller was convicted in an Indiana state court of the rape, torture, and murder of a young woman and was sentenced to death. After exhausting his state remedies, he sought habeas corpus in federal district court, which was denied. On appeal, he argued that his trial counsel was ineffective and so he is entitled to a new trial. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Miller's counsel had not been ineffective. Miller appealed.

Issue:

Should Miller be entitled to a new trial because of the alleged ineffectiveness of his trial counsel?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court held that Miller would have had a reasonable shot at acquittal had his lawyer been minimally competent. The minimally competent lawyer would have presented expert evidence that there was no physical evidence of Miller's presence at the crime scene, would have greatly undermined the hardware clerk's evidence, would not have undermined the alibi testimony of Miller's wife, would by forgoing psychological evidence (unlikely in any event to impress a jury) have kept the evidence of Miller's previous crimes from the jury, and would thus have forced the state to rely entirely on Wood's questionable testimony. The jury might have concluded that Wood was trying to save his life by portraying himself falsely as the tool of an older man. The Court held that the chance of an acquittal would still have been significantly less than 50 percent; but it would not have been a negligible chance, and that is enough to conclude that the lawyer's errors of representation were, in the aggregate, prejudicial. The Court reversed the judgment of the lower court and ordered that the state either release Miller or retry him within 120 days.

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