In United States v. Darling, ACCA affirmed because appellant could not establish the prejudice prong of an IAC “claim.” This is worth reading for those cases where the accused is found not guilty after a contested case, but during sentencing there is a concession that the accused was actually guilty. For the defense counsel this case addresses the issues of how to do sentencing and try to get a lower sentence.
Appellate defense counsel initially raised one assignment of error to this court – that appellant’s conviction for uttering checks with intent to defraud was legally and factually insufficient. Upon our initial review, we specified the following issues:
WHETHER APPELLANT WAS DENIED HIS SIXTH AMENDMENT RIGHT TO EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL WHEN, AFTER PLEADING NOT GUILTY, HIS DEFENSE COUNSEL ARGUED DURING SENTENCING THAT: (1) APPELLANT “LIVED OUT THE FANTASY OF A SOLDIER WHO GOT [AN] INHERITANCE AND WHO HAD MONEY IN THE BANK,” AND; (2) APPELLANT, “OUT OF DESPERATION, . . . TOOK A CHECK FROM [HIS ROOMMATE], WROTE IT OUT FOR 300 DOLLARS, AND CASHED IT.” See United States v. Wean, 45 M.J. 461 (C.A.A.F. 1997).
ASSUMING, ARGUENDO, THAT APPELLANT WAS DENIED EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL ON SENTENCING, WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE REMEDY? See United States v. Boone, 49 M.J. 187 (C.A.A.F. 1998).
So now what:
In United States v. Wean, 45 M.J. 461, 463 (C.A.A.F. 1997), our superior court stated that
in general, when an accused has consistently denied guilt, a functional defense counsel should not concede an accused’s guilt during sentencing, not only because this can serve to anger the panel members, but also because defense counsel may be able to argue for reconsideration of the findings before announcement of sentence.
The court comes to this conclusion or evaluation of the defense tactics on sentencing:
We are at a loss as to how this tactic could possibly “preserve what little credibility [CPT D] had left with the panel so they would fully consider [appellant’s] sentencing case.” On the contrary, we believe it is much more likely that this tactic damaged counsel’s credibility and, as in Wean, “was directly contrary to appellant’s insistence upon his innocence.” See Wean, 45 M.J. at 463. The law in this area is in a state of flux, however, so we will assume arguendo that CPT D’s performance was deficient and proceed to our analysis of prejudice.
ACCA ended up affirming the findings and sentence because they found no prejudice to the appellant.
These cases and issues are TOUGH to do. On the one hand the client wants to litigate and that’s not a bad strategy even if it’s a litigate to mitigate case. But the quandry comes on how best to try and do damage control on sentencing. Here the client didn’t help.