Monday, February 08, 2010

Decision to Agree to Mistrial Is Counsel's to Make, Not Defendant's

US v. Chapman: In this 2255 action, Chapman challenged the effectiveness of his counsel at trial. In particular, Chapman argued that when the Government went beyond the scope of certain evidentiary rulings with relation to FRE 404(b) evidence, his counsel was ineffective for moving only for a mistrial with prejudice, which the district court denied. The district court "offered" to grant a mistrial without prejudice, but trial counsel declined the invitation. Chapman argued, unsuccessfully before the district court, that counsel's failure to accept the offer when Chapman told him to do so was ineffective assistance.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's conclusion that Chapman's counsel was not ineffective. The court agreed with the Government that decisions about whether to seek a mistrial, and on what grounds, are tactical decisions that belong to counsel, not the defendant.

Judge Michael concurred in the judgment, but wrote separately and argued that the court should have resolved the appeal on the narrow facts of the case, rather than announcing a broader rule of general application.

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