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Habeas Law Appellate Court Opinion

by Booth, George


AC42250 - Jordan v. Commissioner of Correction (Habeas corpus; claim that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance to petitioner by failing to adequately investigate and present witnesses in support of petitioner's claim of self-defense; "This appeal highlights the significant hurdle a habeas corpus petitioner faces in seeking to prove a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel after trial counsel has died and, thus, is unavailable to provide evidence of counsel's strategic decisions regarding, inter alia, the pursuit of defenses for her client and calling witnesses in support of those defenses. The death of the petitioner's trial counsel prior to a habeas corpus trial, however, does not absolve a petitioner of his heavy burden of overcoming the strong presumption that counsel provided effective assistance. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984); see also Slevin v. United States, 71 F. Supp. 2d 348, 358 n.9 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) ("[b]ecause the death of a petitioner's trial counsel is just as, if not more, likely to prejudice the respondent, it does not relieve the petitioner of his heavy burden of proving ineffective assistance" (internal quotation marks omitted)), aff'd, 234 F.3d 1263 (2d Cir. 2000).

The respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court granting a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by the petitioner, Bryan Jordan.The respondent claims on appeal that the habeas court improperly determined that the petitioner's trial counsel rendered ineffective legal assistance by failing to investigate adequately and to present available witnesses in support of the petitioner's claim of self-defense and, alternatively, by failing to raise the defense of third-party culpability. We agree with the respondent that the habeas court failed to hold the petitioner to the requisite burden of proof and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the habeas court.")