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Court hears ineffective assistance case

Boston (Dolan) – The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that considers whether a lawyer ineffectively assisted a murder defendant by failing to get an expert to investigate blood evidence from the scene of a shooting.

The case, Harrington v. Richter, involves the conviction of Joshua Richter and his friend Christian Branscombe for murdering a man during the course of a home robbery.

However, Richter claimed that he and Branscombe went to the house of a mutual acquaintance to return belongings.

Branscombe claimed that when he entered the home and awakened one of the men, the man opened fire, but hit the other house occupant by accident. Branscombe said that he then shot the first man in self-defense.

After trial, Richter claimed that he was denied effective assistance of counsel because his lawyer failed to properly investigate the blood-splatter evidence and didn’t present experts to testify that the victim had been shot in accordance with the defense’s theory of the case.

The 9th Circuit agreed, explaining that a competent attorney would have consulted with an expert in blood evidence.

The State of California argued that, under the 9th Circuit’s interpretation of the ineffective counsel standard set out in Strickland v. Washington, every defense attorney would be required to have experts conduct forensic testing in cases involving blood evidence.

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