Monthly Archives: February 2011

State v. Grier: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Interesting.

WA Supremes held that a defense attorney’s “all or nothing” approach, in which “lesser included” jury instructions were rejected, was a legitimate trial tactic and did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) under the state or federal constitutions. Trial courts are not required to provide lesser included instructions in the absence of a request for such instructions.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=834521MAJ

Defendant Kristina Grier was charged with Murder in the 2nd degree following a fight she had with the victim Gregory Owen.  earlier, they were drinking with a group of people at Grier’s home.  Owen was alleged to have stolen several items from Grier, during the course of the evening.  Some of these items included three guns.  Grier and her son confronted Owen.  A fight broke out.  Unfortunately, a gun went off, killing Owen.

At trial, Grier’s defense attorney withdrew his earlier request for a jury instruction on the lesser offense of Assault.  As a result, the jury was not instructed on those offenses.  The jury convicted Grier of murder.  The case went up for appeal on the issue of whether Grier’s defense attorney was ineffective.  The Court of Appeals reversed Grier’s conviction.  They believed Grier’s attorney was ineffective because he failed to request instructions on the lesser included offenses.

For those unfamiliar with criminal law practice, a “lesser included” offense shares some, but not all, of the elements of a greater criminal offense. Therefore, the greater offense cannot be committed without also committing the lesser offense. For example, Manslaughter is a lesser included offense of murder, assault is a lesser included offense of rape, and unlawful entry is a lesser included offense of Burglary.

The WA Supremes ruled Grier’s attorney’s decision to withdraw the lesser included offense instructions did not prevent her from raising an ineffective assistance claim.  The court also held that defense counsel’s “all or nothing” approach was a legitimate trial tactic and was not IAC.  The court vacated the Court of Appeals decision.

My opinion?  Interesting decision.  It’s difficult to play “Monday Morning Quarterback” and call a defense attorney’s trial tactics ineffective simply because the defendant lost at trial.  What if the defense attorney wanted the jury instruction and Grier was convicted?  Would she appeal the case anyway, and call her attorney ineffective because she was convicted on the lesser charge?  Good decision, WA Supremes.

State v. Schultz: Warrantless Search of Home

Excellent opinion.

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1373311.html

Officers received a 911 call about a couple was yelling inside their apartment.  Officers drove to the scene.  The woman consented to the officer’s request to enter the apartment.  Officers found a marijuana pipe.  Upon their find, they also conducted a more intrusive – and warrantless – search of the apartment.  Methamphetamine was found.

The WA Supremes reasoned the test for an emergency aid exception (also called Exigent Circumstances) entry has been expanded to include the following elements: (1) The police officer subjectively believed that someone likely needed assistance for health or safety concerns; (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would similarly believe that there was need for assistance; (3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place being searched; (4) there is an imminent threat of substantial injury to persons or property; (5) state agents must believe a specific person or persons or property are in need of immediate help for health or safety reasons; and (6) the claimed emergency is not a mere pretext for an evidentiary search.

They further reasoned that here, the mere acquiescence to an officer’s entry is not consent to search.  It is also not an exception to our state’s constitutional protection of the privacy of the home. Finally, while the likelihood of domestic violence may be considered by courts when evaluating whether the requirements of the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement have been satisfied, the warrantless entry in this case was unnecessary.  Officers merely heard raised voices from outside the home.  The agitated and flustered woman who answered the door indicated that no one else was present in the home.  No emergency existed.

My opinion?  Good decision.  Granting a police officer’s request to enter the home is not, by itself, consent to search the home.  Period.

State v. Irby: Jury Selection Gone Wrong

Very interesting case.

The WA Supremes held that a defendant’s right to be present during jury selection was violated when the trial judge emailed the attorneys and said he was inclined to release ten prospective jurors for hardship.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=826650MAJ

The defendant, Terrance Irby, was charged with first degree murder.  During jury selection, several members of the jury were disqualified by the judge and attorneys through email exchanges.  The communications occurred without the defendant being present.  Consequently, the Court of Appeals overturned Irby’s conviction.

The WA Supremes reasoned,  “In criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right to appear and defend person, or by counsel”   under the due process clause of 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and article I, section 22 of the WA Constitution.  Here, the State failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the removal of several potential jurors in Irby’s absence had no effect on the verdict.

My opinion?  Good decision.  The rule is clear as day.  Perhaps one of the jurors who was struck via email would have found Irby not guilty.  We’ll never know.  At any rate, Mr. Irby’s rights were clearly violated.