Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ineffective Assistance of Appellate Counsel

In Wright v. Vaughn, No 04-3457 (3d Cir. 12/26/06), involving a 2254 petition challenging a state court conviction, the 3rd Circuit addressed a "layered" ineffectiveness claim: whether appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise trial counsel's ineffectiveness in not calling defendant's girlfriend as an alibi witness.

The Court ruled that appellate counsel was not ineffective since appellate counsel may have concluded that trial counsel had strategic reasons for not calling the witness. These reasons could have included the fact that as defendant's girlfriend, the witness was not unbiased, that she had a long history of crimen falsi offenses, and that after defendant's arrest, she never went to the police to tell them defendant could not have committed the murder.

The Court also rejected Wright's claim that he was denied his 6th Amendment right to confront witnesses because the district court disallowed cross-examination tending to show that others besides Wright had an interest in killing the deceased. The Court found that although the exclusion of the evidence was error, it was harmless since much of this evidence came in through other means. The Court thus affirmed the denial of the habeas petition.

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