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Showing posts from December, 2011

Attorney's failure to conduct adequate investigation of mitigating circumstances constituted ineffective assistance of counsel

In Blystone v. Horn, Nos. 05-9002 & 05-9003 (3d Cir. Dec. 22, 2011), the Third Circuit denied the government's cross-appeal and upheld the district court's conclusion that trial counsel in a capital case provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to adequately investigate mitigating circumstances for the defendant's punishment phase of his death penalty case even though the defendant had indicated that he did not wish to present a mitigation case to the jury. The Court held that the duty to conduct a reasonable investigation of mitigating evidence exists independently of the duty to present a mitigation case to the jury. In fact, the Court found, the duty to conduct a reasonable investigation is a "necessary predicate" to the decision of whether to present a mitigation case.

Here, the trial attorney conducted a minimal investigation involving only four of the defendant's family members. He solicited no expert mental health testimony and failed t…

Fact that co-conspirator helped plan robbery that led to high speed chase insufficient to warrant U.S.S.G. §3C1.2 enhancement

Defendant Dwayne Cespedes was part of a three-member conspiracy which planned and executed an armed bank robbery. After removing more than $20,000 from the bank safe, Cespedes and co-conspirator Michael Grant entered the getaway car driven by co-conspirator Curtis Whitehurst. Whitehurst refused to submit to an attempted traffic stop and led police on a high speed chase through two counties. During the chase, Cespedes and Grant got out of the car and fled on foot, while Whitehurst continued his reckless driving, ignoring traffic laws, running stop signs, traveling in the wrong direction on certain roads and nearly striking several pedestrians in a crosswalk.

At Cespedes's sentencing, the district court applied a two-level enhancement for recklessly endangering others while fleeing from law enforcement officers pursuant to U.S.S.G. §3C1.2. The court rejected Cespedes's objection that the enhancement was improper because he never possessed control over the getaway vehicle and had …