Counsel Ineffective for Failure to Present Psychiatric Evidence at Pre-Trial Hearing

On June 6, 2013, the New York Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division, First Department order vacating George Oliveras’s murder conviction.  In 1999, Mr. Oliveras voluntarily went to a police station when he heard police were looking for him in connection with a murder.  Even though Mr. Oliveras’s mother informed police prior to the interrogation that he suffered from mental illness, detectives interrogated Oliveras for six and a half hours – eliciting statements that were the only direct evidence connecting him to the crime. The description provided by a 911 caller did not match Oliveras and bullets found at the scene did not connect him to the crime.

Defense counsel moved to suppress Oliveras’ in-custody statements as false and coerced.  But, counsel failed to conduct the investigation and analysis necessary to succeed in his strategy. Trial counsel failed to subpoena his client’s mental health records, and did not hire an expert. Oliveras was convicted.

Post-conviction, the Office of the Appellate Defender brought a C.P.L. 440.10 motion to vacate, arguing trial counsel was ineffective.  After a hearing, the trial court dismissed the motion, but the Appellate Division First Department reversed and ordered a new trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed, explaining that counsel failed to pursue the minimal investigation required under the circumstances.

The strategy to present defendant’s mental capacity and susceptibility to police interrogation could only be fully developed after counsel’s investigation of the fact and law, which required review of the records.

New York Courts are finally looking beyond the record on appeal and requiring counsel to undertake investigation demanded by the facts of the case.

To read the decision, click here.

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