Can a failure to file a pretrial motion equal ineffective assistance of counsel? The BLUF is yes in some cases. In some instances I have argued IAC on appeal for failing to make a meritorious motion. The NMCCA has issued an interesting opinion in United States v. Spurling, in which they discuss this important issue. The opinion appears to be an en banc one although not labeled as such – Sr. Judge Ward writes for a majority of five, with three dissenters in an opinion written by Judge King. The issue of IAC for failure to raise a pretrial motion is neither novel nor rare. Many of my appellate clients raise a question about why the defense counsel didn’t fil a particular motion. I am about to file one in a case (citing United States v. Grostefon) where the client complains that the defense counsel did not file a motion to dismiss certain charges. A more common issue is a motion to suppress, or speedy trial, or UCI.
- Spurling claimed IAC because his counsel did not litigate his admissions. Interestingly both counsel admitted they didn’t even catch the issue: [Counsel] failed to “recognize the issue based on [her] lack of experience, the work load at the time, and never having argued an Article 31 issue[.]”
- Capt B concurs, stating that had the issue occurred to him “[he] would have proposed filing it.”
- Both TDC acknowledge that it was not until after participating in a post-trial debrief with the military judge, who asked whether they had filed a suppression motion, that they recognized the issue.
So how is this admitted “failure” to be reviewed. The court states the standard as a need to show a reasonable probability the motion would be a success, and this must be a substantial chance, not a mere probability. United States v. Jameson, 65 M.J. 160 (C.A.A.F. 2007); United States v. McConnell, 55 M.J. 479, 482 (C.A.A.F. 2001). Without this finding, there is no IAC even if there is an error, because there is no prejudice. However, the dissenters, expressed through Judge King would set aside the findings and sentence on the IAC issue. The court then goes into the ongoing issue of when is a person acting within a official capacity. Finding no substantial likelihood of success on the motion the court finds no harmful and prejudicial error. There has been some discussion already on the requirement to advise a person of their Article 31, UCMJ, right to silence.
Expect to see Spurling at CAAF, potentially as a trailer.
Spurling wins something on the inappropriate sentence – a set aside of the BCD.
Do you have to raise every single motion? No.
Do you have to raise every single motion the client asks you to? No.
I wonder what the MJ would have done if the counsel had asked for a post-trial session to litigate the motion at that time, if for no other reason than to make a record for appeal? We know the MJ can hold such a hearing.