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Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel to Get New Trial

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on October 24, 2013 2:35 PM

In a scathing 135-page decision, a Connecticut judge has set aside Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's murder conviction and ordered a new trial. Skakel was convicted in 2002 for the grisly murder of Martha Moxley, his teenage neighbor in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1975.

Though Skakel has served about half of his 20-year sentence, he's slated for a brand spankin' new trial because his original trial lawyer did not competently represent him.

Getting another bite at the "judicial apple" is no easy feat -- but it is possible under pretty extraordinary circumstances.

New Trial Granted

Though a rarity, it's possible to get a new trial in certain situations. Factors that may warrant a new trial include juror misconduct, evidentiary issues, as well as other significant legal errors or injustices.

In Michael Skakel's case, the issue was ineffective assistance of counsel. Because Skakel did not receive adequate representation, Judge Thomas Bishop ruled Skakel's conviction "lack[ed] reliability" and ordered a new trial, reports The Hartford Courant.

When a new trial is granted, that means a repeat inquiry will be made into some or all of the issues in an action, in order to correct the problem that was made previously.

What Is Ineffective Assistance of Counsel?

If you're in a criminal case and your attorney's mistakes or incompetence somehow caused you to lose your case, you may have a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel. This is because every defendant has a constitutional right to adequate representation.

Judge Bishop spent much of his decision doling out a harsh critique of Skakel's original trial lawyer, Michael "Mickey" Sherman. According to Bishop, Sherman "was in a myriad of ways ineffective." Sherman failed to pay "attention to detail," conduct "an energetic investigation" and execute "a coherent plan of defense," reports the Courant.

The result was a tainted initial trial followed by a string of failed appeals.

Our legal system hinges on a tug-of-war between two sides. When one party doesn't pull its weight, it becomes a lopsided game that deprives the defendant of a fair trial. Although Sherman's performance and errors of judgment weren't the fault of prosecutors, a defendant's constitutional right to adequate representation outweighs the inconvenience and financial and emotional cost of a new trial.

As Judge Bishop put it, "To conclude otherwise would be to elevate expediency over the constitutional rights we cherish." Prosecutors, however, say they plan to appeal the judge's ruling.

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