Monday, October 22, 2007
A defendant was convicted at a bench trial of statutory sexual assault and corruption of a minor. The victim was "an adolescent girl...who attended the church where [the defendant] was an organist." The defendant contended that his trial counsel was ineffective because he had failed to bring out an offer from the victim's mother to drop the charges in exchange for a $5,000 payment. Further, the lawyer questioned the victim about a similar accusation she had made against her mother's former boyfriend that was later recanted. The lawyer had represented the former boyfriend in connection with that allegation. The defendant claimed that the prior representation created a conflict of interest.
On appeal of the District Court's conclusion that the ineffective assistance claims had been procedurally defaulted, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated the district court and remanded for further proceedings. The district court is directed to consider whether the trial counsel was ineffective in, among other things, failing to withdraw and testify about the offer to drop the case for a payment and failing to present evidence of the mother's motivation to lie (and get the victim to do so) because she was cooperating with the government in an unrelated case. The court rejected the conflict of interest claim relating to the representation of the former boyfriend in an unrelated case. The representation "only provided [the lawyer] additional information about [the victim]; it thereby did not constitute a conflict that was prejudicial to [the defendant]." (Mike Frisch)