August 20, 2018

Tenth Circuit: Speculation Regarding the Purported Prejudicial Effect of Counsel’s Misconduct Not Enough to Conclude Outcome Would Have Been Different

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Byrd v. Workman on Friday, May 27, 2011.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Petitioner, an Oklahoma state prisoner currently serving a fifty-five-year sentence, appeals the district court’s denial of his habeas petition. Petitioner alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to investigate whether his prior felony convictions would be admissible for purposes of enhancing his sentence, and then introduced all of his prior convictions to the jury when three of them were otherwise inadmissible.

The Court disagreed with Petitioner’s contentions. In order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show both that his counsel’s performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness” and that “the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” However, his counsel’s actions, while mistaken in introducing transactional felony convictions, did not rise to this level of prejudicial misconduct. The Court failed to see how the introduction of the improper transactional felonies prejudiced Petitioner; his relatively light sentence was not in itself indicative that a further reduction was reasonably probable had they not been admitted, especially given his uncontested status as a career offender. According to the Court, Petitioner “offers little more than speculation regarding the purported prejudicial effect of the admission of these additional felonies on his sentence, and it is well-established that such speculation alone cannot give rise to a ‘reasonable probability’ that the outcome of the trial would have been different.”

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