The Uphill Battle of Pursuing an Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim after a Massachusetts Conviction

Anyone accused of a crime in Massachusetts may have several opportunities to challenge the accusations lodged against them. Sometimes, charges are dismissed based on evidentiary issues before a trial occurs. At the close of a trial, defendants may be successful in asking the court to acquit them without sending the charges to a jury. After a conviction, defendants may be entitled to relief by an appeal if an error was made below. In situations where a defendant’s trial counsel made mistakes that resulted in a conviction, defendants may be entitled to relief by making a claim on appeal of “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Although it is a high bar to meet, it is possible for someone to be completely exonerated by way of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently addressed a defendant’s claim that their counsel was ineffective by failing to request a new trial before they were convicted of a violent assault crime.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published opinion, the defendant was charged with assault after she was found by a family member next to an unconscious man in an apartment. After the defendant was confronted by the man’s friends, other individuals intervened and allowed her to escape. Later, the alleged victim found a wallet that appeared to belong to the assailant, and she was tracked down and arrested. The defendant was later convicted at trial, although she took issue with her defense counsel’s performance and appealed the conviction to the state appeals court.

On appeal, the defendant’s motion for a new trial and claim of ineffective assistance of counsel were denied. She argued that her lawyer failed to inform her about the possibility of a Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF). However, a new trial can only be granted if justice likely was not served, and such motions are granted only in exceptional circumstances. The trial judge, who also ruled on the motion, found no evidence of ineffective assistance. To prove ineffective assistance, a defendant must show their lawyer’s performance was significantly below standard and likely deprived them of a substantial defense.

In this case, there was no formal plea offer for a CWOF, and the lawyer had discussed various plea options, including CWOF, probation, and restitution. The prosecutor stated at sentencing that a CWOF was not offered. Furthermore, the appeals court found that there was no reasonable probability the defendant would have accepted a plea deal requiring her to admit sufficient facts, as she consistently pursued a misidentification defense. Her lawyer’s strategy focused on challenging the identification, and although the jury ultimately convicted her, this does not imply ineffective counsel. The defense’s strategy, though unsuccessful, was reasonable.

The defendant also failed to show she would have accepted a CWOF if offered, given her strong misidentification defense. To prove prejudice, the defendant needed to show a reasonable probability of a more favorable plea outcome than the trial result. Since the prosecution did not offer a CWOF and it was unlikely the defendant would have accepted it, she failed to demonstrate prejudice. Additionally, the trial judge did not err in denying the motion without an evidentiary hearing, as the existing evidence did not support the defendant’s claims. Thus, the motion for a new trial was denied, and the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel failed. As a result of this appellate ruling, the woman’s conviction will stand.

Finding Effective Trial Counsel in Massachusetts

Although ineffective assistance of counsel claims are hard to make after a conviction, retaining an effective trial attorney before a conviction will greatly improve a defendant’s chances of a dismissal or acquittal from the charges. If you are facing criminal charges in Massachusetts, it’s never too late to find a qualified attorney. The Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy know how to handle tough facts and cutthroat prosecutors, and we can help fight the charges against you. Our firm represents clients facing all Massachusetts misdemeanors and felonies, including violent offenses. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.

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