Strategy Decision Doesn't Warrant Ineffective Counsel Reversal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 23, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a first-degree murder convict's ineffective counsel argument last week, finding that the lawyer's strategic decision to avoid raising his client's medical history as part of his defense was reasonable.

Victor Smith killed his cousin's boyfriend after consuming ten drinks and two Artane pills - a medication prescribed to Smith to treat Tourette's Syndrome -- in about six hours. Smith was upset by news that the victim had beat up his cousin, and responded by stabbing the victim 22 times.

After the stabbing, Smith admitted to multiple people that he had killed the victim, and bragged that he would "get away with it" because he had Tourette's. Smith was clearly mistaken in that theory, because a jury convicted him of first-degree murder.

During the trial, Smith's lead counsel relied on an intoxication defense designed to achieve a manslaughter verdict, and presented expert testimony about the effects of alcohol combined with Artane.

On appeal, Smith argued that he had been prejudiced by ineffective counsel, that his attorney failed to present a defense that Smith's Tourette's exacerbated the effects of the alcohol and Artane, and that Smith was legally insane at the time of the killing due to Tourette's and other mental illness.

While the First Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that it was unusual that Smith's counsel did not employ Smith's Tourette's in the defense, the court ruled that Smith's attorney made a reasonable, strategic decision not to assert the Tourette's defense because he wanted the prevent the prosecution from introducing rebuttal evidence that would have further damaged Smith's case.

A lawyer is not required to assert every possible defense on his client's behalf. Here, the First Circuit found that Smith was not prejudiced by ineffective counsel because his lawyer made a strategic decision not to assert a defense in order to better represent Smith.

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