U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Drug Defendant Wins Hearing for Deficient Counsel in Appeal

Justice is often less than precise. Some cases are easily tied in a neat little bow. Then there are cases involving 26 indictments and 40 defendants, and sentencing enhancements that get misapplied due to a deficient defense counsel filing frivolous motions.

Recently, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had the pleasure of handling one such, let's just say, rare appeal. The defendant, LeeAnn Brock-Miller, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin charge, and received a 10 year sentence. On appeal, the court seemed to agree with Brock-Miller that her attorney failed her, and the system messed up badly.

Oops ... Wrong Law

Brock-Miller contended that her sentence would have been shorter but for the enhancement being applied. She explained to the court that her enhancement was related to a prior charge for possession of syringes. However, at the time of conviction of the prior charge, it was technically not a drug charge subject to the enhancement because its wording was specific to prescription drugs. The lower court had relied on an updated wording of the syringe law that made it a drug charge.

Unfortunately for the defendant, as the appellate court noted, the lawyer missed the mark and objected to the wrong issue. Sadly, or maybe luckily, the lawyer was so blatantly wrong that the court found the objection to be frivolous, which as the appeals court found, bolstered the defendant's claim of deficient counsel.

The Seventh Circuit found that the defendant is entitled to a hearing to prove a deficient counsel claim. So, while almost any lawyer will be quick to remind non-lawyers that there is a reason it's called "practicing law," the truth is, when significant mistakes are made, there can be serious consequences.

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