In Newman v. Harrington, No. 12-3725 (7th Cir. 8/9/13), the Court affirmed a district court ruling on a habeas petition which found that the failure of defense counsel to investigate known deficiencies concerning his client’s mental capacity, and to raise the issue of defendant’s fitness to stand trial with the State trial court, constituted ineffective assistance.
Newman, a homicide defendant, was 16 when he shot and killed the victim. Newman’s mother hired an attorney to defend her son and, at their first meeting, provided counsel with extensive material documenting her son’s long history of mental and cognitive deficits. Further, Newman responded to the trial judge’s questions concerning his right to testify at trial with simple “yes” or “no” answers. During this colloquy, Newman failed to display any meaningful understanding of the proceedings. Thus, both defense counsel and the trial judge had reasons to question Newman’s fitness for trial, but there was no pre-trial fitness hearing. Newman went to trial, was convicted, and received a custodial term of 47 years that was affirmed on appeal.
The following year, Newman sought State-court post-conviction relief. His petition was supported by, among other things, an evaluation by a clinical psychologist which stated that Newman had cognitive deficits, was mildly to moderately retarded, was never fit to stand trial, and that his many mental health issues were obvious to anyone who attempted to speak with him. Further, his IQ was 54, and his intellectual abilities were in the “extremely low” range. His reading and math skills ranged from those of a child of 4 to one of 7. Newman could not tell time, could not deal with abstract concepts, and had a poor memory. Continue reading ›