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Former U. Va. Student Is Petitioning Supreme Court

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on April 10, 2015 1:55 PM

Former University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V is taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2012 for beating his ex-girlfriend, also a lacrosse player, to death.

As is fitting for his station in life (he grew up in a 1.5-acre estate and attended elite private schools), Huguely is represented by none other than former solicitor general Paul Clement from the firm of Bancroft, PLLC in Washington, D.C.

Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel

The Supreme Court of Virginia denied a request to hear an appeal of his case in January, reported The Daily Progress of Charlottesville. On March 27, Chief Justice John Roberts granted an application to extend time to file a cert. petition, which is now due May 15.

In 2010, Huguely and his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, got into an altercation in her apartment. After being arrested for her death, he waived his Miranda rights and admitted to police that he "shook Love, and [hit] her head repeatedly hit the wall." Two years later, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and grand larceny.

The state-level appeal focused on two issues: (1) whether Huguely's Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the trial continued even though an attorney was sick on a day when "more than half of the witnesses testified," and (2) whether two jurors should have been recused.

Last March, the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed Huguely's conviction. Huguely had two privately retained attorneys, neither of whom was designated the lead attorney, the Court of Appeals said in its decision. Rhonda Quagliana became ill with a stomach virus and wasn't present on a day when she was supposed to examine a medical expert.

The other attorney, Francis McQ. Lawrence, indicated he wasn't prepared to examine the witness, as that was supposed to be Quagliana's job. Instead, he examined several other witnesses. Quagliana returned the next day and examined the medical expert.

The Court of Appeals said that the court's failure to issue a continuance until Quagliana returned didn't deprive Huguely of his right to counsel because one of his attorneys wasn't present.

Complaints Over Voir Dire

The recusal issue centered on several jurors who said during voir dire that he seemed guilty based on newspaper accounts of the case, but nevertheless said they'd keep an open mind. The Court of Appeals said this was just "a casual impression," not "a fixed and abiding conviction" meriting disqualification.

Other jurors, Huguely argued, should have been struck due to their affiliation with the university or for other reasons, but the court found that none of them expressed such staunch opinions about the case before hearing evidence that they should be disqualified.

Given all this, it's not surprising that a Virginia defense attorney, paraphrased by the Daily Progress, didn't have high hopes for the petition. "There is no far-reaching constitutional issue at stake," it said.

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