Sunday, November 13, 2005

Ineffective asstance of counsel claims fail - discussion of defense counsel's trial tactics

[CASE] In an appeal of child molestation convictions, the defendant raised claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that give an interesting view of the defense counsel's trial tactics. State v. Cramer, 2005 WL 2858884 (Wash. App. Div. 2, Nov. 1, 2005) (unpublished), Find Result - 2005 WL 2858884.

Cramer contends that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for several reasons. Primarily, he points to counsel's decision to cross-examine R.C. in a highly confrontational manner, which, by Cramer's account, could serve only to engender hate for Cramer in the jurors' minds. Cramer also maintains that his counsel was ineffective because he elicited unfavorable testimony; was repeatedly rebuked by the trial court for using improper impeachment procedures; failed to object to improper closing argument by the State; and acted unprofessionally in the courtroom.
I was particularly interested in the first issue -- the aggressive cross-examination of the child victim. The cross seemed to be so hard on the girl that the trial judge ordered the lawyer to do his questioning seated:
[T]his is my problem, sir, and this is why I told you to sit down, is that this witness is breaking down on the stand. I do not believe that badgering this witness is going to succeed for either side. If anything, if you look at your jury, they're tuning out this part of the testimony because they can't stand to watch this child go through that.
Not only did the questioning appear to be hard on the girl, but the defendant's reaction to it also made an impression on the judge. During sentencing, he told the defendant:
This child was on the stand for three hours, approximately. You know what really affected me about that testimony? Not so much what she said, but how you didn't react to it. You had absolutely zero expression while your attorney scathed her on the stand, skewered her six ways to Sunday.

And I'm thinking of those moments where he goes, [']You see your transcript. At this time and this place you said this?['] Trying to trip up this little girl. Okay. He did his job. But she broke down as a result of it. Okay.

But you didn't react, sir. And that really bothered me that a father, a biological father wouldn't react to that, seeing his own child put through that kind of torture.
On the ineffective assistance of counsel claims, the court concluded:
This court will rarely sustain an ineffective assistance claim where the 'entire record' on appeal 'reflects a vigorous and competent defense.' * * * Cramer received such a defense. This is reflected not only in the trial transcript, but in a record that contains detailed motions for discovery, continuance, a bill of particulars, dismissal, an arrest of judgment, and a new trial. Defense counsel's tactical decisions in representing Cramer did not constitute ineffective assistance. Were we to hold otherwise, such tactical decisions would be the norm with defense counsel intent on creating error for redress on appeal.
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