Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lawyers not required to predict changes in the law

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole for juveniles in Miller v. Alabama. A year earlier Angel Rivera pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. He then suggested his attorney was ineffective for not predicting that mandatory life for juveniles would be struck down, reported The Legal Intelligencer.

Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert L. Steinberg addressed the merits of the Rivera's claim concluding that his trial counsel could not be faulted for failing to anticipate the high court's seminal ruling in Miller.

Steinberg's nine-page opinion in Commonwealth v. Rivera provides an early look into some issues that may arise at the trial level now that Miller has been decided. Hundreds of Pennsylvania murderers who were sentenced as juveniles may look to attack their sentences based on the decision and Pennsylvania appellate jurisprudence stemming from it.

"The simple answer is that the effectiveness of counsel is evaluated under the standards in effect at the time of performance, and counsel cannot be deemed ineffective for failing to predict developments or changes in the law," Steinberg said.

Christie F. Bonesch of the Lehigh County District Attorney's office represented the state."I think the judge did the right thing," Bonesch said. "Lawyers can't be ineffective for failing to predict the way the courts will rule."

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