Wednesday, May 22, 2013

OJ Simpson's Chances For A New Trial

OJ Simpson's bid to get a new trial in his Nevada convictions for 19 various felony counts ranging from kidnapping, assault, robbery and the use of a deadly weapon, resulted in a five-day evidentiary hearing from May 13 to May 17, 2013, last week.  Simpson's Petition was filed with the Clark County District Court over a year ago on May 12, 2012.  Various witnesses testified, including Simpson himself, a first in any of his criminal prosecutions, and Simpson's trial attorney, Yale Galanter, whom Simpson claims was ineffective at trial, entitling Simpson to a new trial.  At the evidentiary hearing, Galanter passionately denied any error or omission on his part during Simpson's trial.

Simpson's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is not uncommon when convicted criminal defendants have exhausted all their appeals as of right.  The claim is filed in the form of a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus and is based on an allegation that the petitioner's Sixth Amendement Constitutional right to assistance of counsel was violated and thus unvalidates the petitioner's conviction.  The petition must first be filed in the trial court.  The standard for showing ineffective assistance of counsel rising to a level that violates a defendant's constitutional rights to such a degree that would require a defendant to obtain a new trial is set forth in the 1984 United States Supreme Court decision of Strickland v. Washington, as adopted by the Nevada Supreme the case entitled Warden v. Lyons.

Under the Strickland standard, in order to establish a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel sufficient  to invalidate a judgement of conviciton, Simpson is required to denonstrate (1) that his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) that his counsel's errors were so severe that they rendered the jury's verdict unreliable.  The Nevada Supreme Court has held that the severity of the errors must have prejudiced the defendant to such a degree that but for the errors, the verdict would probably have been differenct.  According to Nevada case law, in deciding the petition the trial court need not address both components of the inquiry if Simpson makes an insufficient showing on either one.

The Strickland test is a high bar for a convicted defendant to overcome, and in Nevada, defendants' petitions have been denied even in cases where trial counsel admitted to embezzling large amounts of their clients' money, and in cases where a juror subsequently provided an affidavit indicating he witnessed the defendant's trial counsel sleeping during the trial.  Statistically speaking, it is not likely that Simpson's petition will be granted, so we may see an appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court in the future.