The Connection Between Expert Witness and Ineffective Assistance

Effective Assistance

One of the primary appeals of the United States of America and its Constitution is the protection of the fundamental rights of citizens. The Sixth Amendment guarantees certain fundamental rights of all citizens. A few of these rights include fair and impartial trials, a speedy trial without undue delay, a jury of peers, and effective assistance from counsel.

No doubt, the right to effective assistance from counsel is crucial. However, it is subject to significant debate. Apparently, the debate shows no sign of abating soon owing to the widespread nature of the debate. For example, the core of the debate—‘What is Effective Assistance’—affects the primary aspect of the effective assistance right. Nevertheless, case law has established tent pegs that help determine agreeable limitations of the vaguely defined right: specifically to ascertain whether or not an attorney provided effective assistance to his or her client.

Ineffective Assistance under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure

Due to the nature of the law, an individual can only bring up a case for ineffective assistance by making a post-conviction appeal. The Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 supports this form of appeal, specifically on the bases that had the appellant received effective assistance, the verdict would have been different. In any case, the final decision rest on the court to evaluate whether there was deficiency in the performance of the implicated attorney, and if the error(s) made by the attorney led to an outcome that could have otherwise been different. Of course, the court makes the test based on “reasonable probability.” In clear terms, reasonable probability refers to estimating the degree of influence of the attorney’s errors on the verdict.

The court’s decision heavily rests on how the errors led to the appealed result. Thus, even if the court discovers and accedes that the attorney made errors, the court would only accept the appeal when the court believes that in the absence of the errors, the appealed verdict would have been different. If the court posits that the errors were not deficient enough to have influenced the result, the court will uphold the conviction and deny the post-conviction appeal.

State of Florida v. Lucas

Lucas, a felony re-offender, was convicted of burglary of a dwelling with aggravated battery. His status of being a felony re-offender meant he received a steeper sentence—life in prison. The steepness of the sentence largely had to do with him perpetrating aggravated battery. Aggravated battery meant that the victim suffered permanent damage from the actions of the defendant. The permanent damage suffered by the victim in this particular case was permanent eye damage. The interesting development was that Lucas’s attorney did not call an expert witness—an ophthalmologist—to ascertain whether or not the damage to the eye of the victim was permanent. Consequently, Lucas made a post-conviction appeal that cited the failure of the attorney to call an expert witness as “ineffective assistance.”

Not Calling an Expert Witness as Grounds for Ineffective Assistance

In the State v. Lucas, the District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Lucas. To understand the decision of the District Court of Appeal completely, it is pertinent to consider the positions of the two opposing sides. Lucas’s legal team opined that the action of the counsel not calling “any” expert witness was grounds for ineffective counsel. On the opposing end, the state argued that not calling a “specific” expert witness was the only ground for ineffective assistance. The District Court of Appeal agreed with the position of Lucas’s legal team.

What the Florida Supreme Court Says

Subsequently, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court of Appeal. Pursuant to this ruling, the Florida Supreme Court vacated Lucas’s aggravated battery conviction, and in essence his life sentence. Accordingly, in the future, a criminal defendant making a post-conviction appeal for ineffective assistance ONLY has to prove that an expert witness was not consulted or presented at trial. To be abundantly clear, the criminal defendant need NOT prove that a specific expert witness was not called or presented at trial.

Legal Assistance in Fort Lauderdale

The importance of expert witness testimony is huge in criminal cases, especially cases that require scientific evidence to prove that the criminal defendant is not guilty of levied charges. It is the duty of an experienced criminal defense attorney to recognize this importance and take necessary steps to provide effective assistance, which include and goes beyond advocating for expert witness testimony on your behalf throughout your proceedings.