Right to counsel guarantees ‘reasonable competence’ and not ‘perfect advocacy’

Supreme Court of United States- Reversing the judgment of the Court of Appeals for Maryland that
the defense attorney of the respondent were unconstitutionally ineffective, the
Court granting the writ of certiorari held that the defense attorney of the
respondent did not provide deficient performance when they failed to uncover
the 1991 report and also failed to use the report’s methodological flaw against
the FBI agent on cross-examination. The Court also observed that the Court of
Appeals had offered no support for its conclusion that the respondent’s defense
attorneys were constitutionally required to predict the demise of Comparative
Bullet Lead Analysis (CBLA). Instead, the court indulged in the “natural
tendency to speculate as to whether a different trial strategy might have been
more successful.”

In the instant
case the respondent had killed his 22-year-old mistress in the head at
pointblank range. During the respondent’s trial, commencing in 1995, an FBI
Agent testified as the State’s expert on CBLA. The respondent in his post conviction
relief had also claimed that his defense attorneys were ineffective for failing
to question the legitimacy of CBLA. Consequently, Court of Appeals had held
that counsel’s failure to unearth the report, to identify one of its findings
as “at odds with the scientific method,” and to use this methodological flaw to
cast doubt on CBLA during counsel’s cross-examination of the agent, “fell short
of prevailing professional norms.”

While giving
reasons this Court stated that the time when the trial took place was the era
of card catalogues, not a worldwide web and it would have been really difficult
for the attorney to find the compilation. The Court further observed, given the
uncontroversial nature of CBLA at the time of respondent’s trial, the effect of
the judgment of the court was to demand that the attorneys should go “looking
for a needle in a haystack,” even when they have “reason to doubt there is any
needle there”, which was far more than reasonable competency which the right to
counsel guarantees. [Maryland,
petitioner v. James kulbicki, 577 U. S. ____ (2015), decided on
5.10.2015]
Source: Legal news India

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