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Name: People v. Almanza
Case #: H039779
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 01/29/2015

Although attorney’s conflict of interest with his client would have resulted in a reversal of the judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed because the California Supreme Court has not expanded presumed prejudice beyond cases involving multiple representation. Almanza was found guilty of multiple sex offenses against a minor female. Just before trial, the prosecutor threatened to prosecute the defense investigator Zorne and possibly the defense attorney because (1) the investigator was not state licensed and (2) the minor’s name had been disclosed to Zorne and used in a recorded defense interview. The minor had recanted during this interview. On appeal, Almanza claimed he was denied the effective assistance of counsel (IAC) due to this conflict. Held: Affirmed. The prosecutor put the defense under fear of prosecution, which precipitated a serious conflict of interest between Almanza and his attorney. In response, defense counsel withdrew his investigator as a witness. Almanza was not asked to waive the conflict nor was independent counsel appointed to advise him. Under Strickland v. Washington (1984) 466 U.S. 668, an IAC claim requires a reviewing court to address a deficient-performance prong as well as a prejudice prong. Here, the first prong is satisfied by the conflict of interest which caused trial counsel to “pull his punches.” The second prong of a Strickland inquiry generally requires a showing of reasonable-probability prejudice. “The other standard is one in which prejudice is presumed.” This occurs when counsel is burdened by an actual conflict of interest that affected the adequacy of counsel’s representation. Were it not for the bright-line rule in People v. Doolin (2009) 45 Cal.4th 390—”that prejudice will be presumed only when counsel is representing multiple defendants concurrently and a conflict of interest arises from that circumstance”—the presumption of prejudice would apply here. However, given Doolin, the court was required to apply the Strickland prejudice standard, under which Almanza could not prevail.