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Name: Knowles v. Mirzayance
Case #: 07-1315
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 03/24/2009
Subsequent History: 129 S.Ct. 1411; 173 L.Ed.2d 251

In an IAC claim, the proper measure of attorney performance is reasonableness under prevailing professional norms (Strickland v. Washington (1984) 466 U.S. 688) and counsel is not required to raise every available nonfrivolous defense simply because there is “nothing to lose” by doing so. In this case, defendant entered a not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity defense. At the guilt phase, counsel presented testimony that defendant was insane and incapable of premeditation and deliberation when he stabbed and murdered the victim and, thus, could be guilty only of the lesser, included offense of second degree murder. The jury nevertheless convicted defendant of first degree murder. In the NGI phase, counsel intended to present the same medical testimony as to insanity, bolstered by emotional testimony of defendant’s parents as to defendant’s mental illness. When the parents declined to testify, counsel recommended to defendant that he not pursue the NGI plea. He based his recommendation on the fact that the jury had already heard the medical evidence and essentially rejected it by returning the first degree verdict, and that there was almost no chance it would reach a different result in the NGI phase. The California Courts of Appeal and the district dourt rejected defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel but the Ninth Circuit disagreed, finding that counsel was ineffective by abandoning the NGI claim when there was nothing to lose by pursuing it. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the standard for ineffective assistance of counsel remained that articulated in Strickland, and counsel is not required to raise every available nonfrivolous defense.