Bloomberg Law’s® extensive network of reporters and editors helps subscribers to stay ahead of legal
A 14-year-old girl’s lawyer should have investigated whether to pursue a psychological defense at her murder trial, a divided Ninth Circuit held April 21 ( Weeden v. Johnson , 2017 BL 131303, 9th Cir., No. 14-17366, 4/21/17 ).
To hold otherwise would reduce the Sixth Amendment right to counsel to “mere ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing,’” Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz wrote for the majority, quoting Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
The court’s decision reinforces a lawyer’s duty to investigate psychological defenses when the defendant’s state of mind is at issue in a criminal prosecution.
Sarah Weeden aided a “botched robbery” that led to the death of an older teenage boy who had invited Weeden and her friends to “party” in July 2005. That boy and another older male promised the girls “beer” and “weed.” Weeden and her friends declined the invitation but gave them Weeden’s cell number.
Weeden and others decided to rob the boys the following month.
Weeden wasn’t at the scene, but she lured them to a park where her accomplices attempted to rob them. One of the accomplices shot and killed one of the boys.
Weeden was convicted of felony murder and attempted robbery. She was sentenced to 29 years to life in prison. Weeden was acquitted of attempted murder.
At trial, Weeden’s lawyer called character witnesses but didn’t present any expert psychological testimony.
Lower courts incorrectly applied U.S. Supreme Court precedent when they found Weeden’s lawyer didn’t have to investigate psychological defenses ahead of trial, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held, granting Weeden’s habeas corpus petition.
It’s possible Weeden’s lawyer would have found a psychological defense unhelpful, but, to be constitutionally effective, he had to at least look into it first, the court explained.
In a case where the prosecution needed to prove Weeden’s intent, psychological evidence of Weeden’s youthful vulnerability could have changed the outcome of her trial, the panel noted. Investigating psychological defenses isn’t necessary in every case, but it was required in this one, the court found.
The Supreme Court has consistently held that the mind of a 14-year-old is less developed than an adult’s, the court said.
Judge Donald W. Molloy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, sitting by designation, was also on the panel.
Judge Consuelo M. Callahan dissented. The majority was simply on a “quest to free a 14-year-old girl from the consequences” of a murder conviction, she argued.
Charles M. Bonneau, Jr. of Sacramento, Calif. represented Weeden. The government was represented by the Office of the Attorney General, Sacramento, Calif.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at email@example.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)