Maryland v. Kulbicki

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: October 5, 2015
  • Case #: No. 14–848
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam
  • Full Text Opinion

When considering an ineffectiveness of counsel claim, counsel’s performance must be assessed against technology or information that was generally accepted at the time of counsel’s performance.

Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder in part due to ballistics evidence from a Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis (CBLA) admitted at trial. Eleven years later, the state court of appeals held that CBLA was no longer scientifically accepted and therefore not admissible as evidence. The state court of appeals vacated Defendant’s conviction and ordered a new trial on the basis that Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel because attorneys failed to question the legitimacy and admissibility of CBLA during the trial. Petitioner, the State of Maryland, requested review of the court of appeals decision.

In assessing effectiveness of counsel, courts should apply the “rule of contemporary assessment of counsel’s conduct,” requiring consideration of the reasonableness of the challenged conduct at the time in which the counsel’s conduct occurred. Stickland v. Washington, 466 US 668, 690 (1984). The Court held that the counsel’s advocacy was reasonable, and not deficient for failure to identify contravening evidence, because CBLA was uncontroversial at the time of the trial. The judgment for post-conviction relief was reversed.

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