Split Appellate Panel Declines to Find Counsel Ineffective in Murder Trial
August 27, 2014
Mr. Casseus was convicted of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, and related counts, following an incident in which two other people were in a fistfight. The fistfight ended when shots were fired. Mr. Casseus’s friend, who had been losing the fight, was killed and the other participant in the fight was injured.
A split Appellate Division panel affirmed Mr. Casseus’s conviction, finding that defense counsel was not ineffective for declining to request that first-degree manslaughter be charged as a lesser-included offense of intentional murder even though the trial court offered to submit this charge.
In dissent, Justice Hinds-Radix concluded that the trial record “strongly indicated” that Mr. Casseus “may not have intended to kill anyone,” but instead had only fired in the air or towards the legs of one of the people fighting to “stop the fight.”
Despite this evidence that Mr. Casseus had no intent to shoot anyone at all, defense counsel requested submission of first-degree manslaughter solely on an extreme emotional disturbance theory. In denying this request, the trial court offered to instead submit first-degree manslaughter under a different theory, as a lesser-included offense of intent to cause serious physical injury. Counsel declined this offer and first-degree manslaughter was not charged.
Justice Hinds-Radix reasoned that counsel’s failure to request the charge “was not supported by any viable trial strategy” and was prejudicial. She concluded that this unreasonable decision may have affected the outcome of Mr. Casseus's trial.
Mark W. Vorkink briefed and argued the appeal.