Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Failure to Request Informant Instruction Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

US v. Luck: Luck was convicted on four counts of drug and firearm violations by a jury. He filed a 2255 challenging his convictions on numerous grounds. After the district court determined that three of the counts were tainted by ineffective assistance of appellate counsel those counts were dismissed by the Government. As to the remaining count, conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, the district court concluded that Luck's trial counsel was not ineffective and refused to vacate that conviction.

On appeal the Fourth Circuit disagreed and reversed the district court's ruling. Specifically, the court held that Luck's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to request an "informant instruction" that would explain to the jury the special duty it has to weigh an informant's testimony against his motives for testifying. Two of the main witnesses against Luck were paid informants. While the court declined to adopt a rule that such an instruction must be given in any case involving informant testimony, it did conclude that such an instruction should have been given in Luck's case based on the evidence presented at trial. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request such an instruction and that failure was prejudicial to Luck, even though the trial court's jury instructions as a whole "contained all of the elements of the informant instruction."

Judge Shedd dissented, agreeing that counsel should have requested the instruction but arguing that Luck had not demonstrated prejudice.

No comments: