Bad Lawyering


Supreme Court refuses to limit appeals based on bad counsel

By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press - (Published April 23, 2003) 

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court refused Wednesday to limit federal appeals involving claims of bad lawyering, an issue that has concerned some justices in death row cases. 
The court said a convicted hit man could claim ineffective counsel in a second round of appeals, even though he did not initially claim that he was poorly represented at his trial. 

The case did not concern a death sentence, but the court's reasoning could apply to death row appeals. 

In speeches, Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have expressed concern about the quality of lawyers available to poor defendants facing the death penalty. The justices heard arguments in another case last month that gives the court an opportunity to set some standards for lawyers who take on death penalty cases. 

Wednesday's decision allows lower courts to consider an appeal from Joseph Massaro, described by prosecutors as a "soldier" in the Luchese organized crime family that controlled an extortion ring involving Long Island topless bars, gambling and loansharking. 

Massaro was sentenced to life in prison for the 1990 killing of a mob partner in a dispute over gambling profits. Prosecutors introduced new evidence three days into the trial. On appeal, Massaro's new lawyer claimed that that the new evidence - a bullet - should not have been allowed. 

The Bush administration had encouraged the high court to use this case to limit the appeal options of people convicted of federal crimes. The administration said Massaro raised the issue too late. 

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said a limit would speed resolution of some bad lawyering claims, but it also would burden appeals courts and potentially make it harder to raise such concerns. 

The ruling does not affect state appeals, but Kennedy said more states are following similar rules. 

The case is Massaro v. United States, 02-1559. 

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