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Name: Smith v. Stewart
Case #: 96-99025
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 03/06/2001
Subsequent History: None

A defendant claimed ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to investigate his mental condition or present mitigating evidence at his sentencing in a death penalty case, despite clear indications then of a mental disorder. The issue was raised for the first time in a third state petition; petitioner’s counsel, a public defender whose office had represented him in post-conviction proceedings, provided an affidavit that the claim had not been raised because his employer, a state agency, prohibited lawyers from attacking each other’s performance as a matter of policy. The Court held federal review of the state court judgment was not a procedural default barring federal review because it was also depended upon the merits of his Sixth Amendment claim. The Court also concluded that petitioner had made a colorable claim of ineffective assistance where both a competency hearing and a presentence report signaled he might have a mental disability. Also, it appears counsel misapprehended the law in thinking that a mental disorder could be an aggravating factor, and thus counsel minimized his client’s mental disorder in argument at sentencing.