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Name: Lewis v. Mayle
Case #: 03-16152
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 11/29/2004

Habeas relief was appropriate where a murder defendant established an actual conflict of interest that seemed to have influenced his attorney’s performance at trial. The defendant here was charged with murder in El Dorado County; under the facts as presented at trial, only the defendant or his nephew Steven Berg could have committed the crime. Berg was the principle witness against defendant, and some physical and circumstantial evidence connected Berg to the crime. Defendant’s retained counsel had represented Berg on an earlier charge, but both men signed waivers agreeing to the representation. At trial, counsel did not cross-examine Berg about his most recent criminal conviction or his probation status, nor did he bring up the fact that Berg had arranged counsel for defendant and assisted in paying the attorney fees. The California Court of Appeal upheld defendant’s conviction, and a federal district court denied habeas relief. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the defendant had not validly waived his right to conflict-free counsel because there was no indication that he understood any of the specific ramifications of the waiver. Further, the court found that the conflict had adversely affected counsel’s performance at trial.