Monday, April 2, 2012

Lawyer erred by not calling psychologist, Missouri appellate court holds

from Forensic Psychologist Blog

180-year sentence overturned over lack of mental health testimony

A trial counsel’s failure to call a psychologist to testify at the sentencing hearing of a Missouri man with borderline intelligence constitutes reversible error, an appellate court has ruled.

The court upheld a trial court decision that the attorney's performance was deficient, and that the failure to present psychological evidence may have prejudiced the defendant.

A jury deliberated for just a little over an hour at the sentencing hearing of 24-year-old Skylor Radmer before recommending a prison sentence of 180 years. Earlier, the jury had convicted him of two counts of statutory sodomy for molesting his 5-year-old niece.

In upholding the lower-court ruling reversing the sentence, the Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri said that psychological testimony about Radmer's borderline intelligence might have resulted in a different outcome.

Radmer's attorney, Bert Godding, knew about Radmer's intellectual handicap because he had represented him in a prior case in which his comprehension of a police Miranda warning was at issue. In that case, he retained psychologist Bill Geis, who testified at an evidentiary hearing that Radmer was functioning at the borderline intellectual level, with an IQ score of 75.

At a hearing on the ineffective assistance claim, Dr. Geis testified that Radmer's low intelligence might have been relevant to explaining his sex offending as a product of poor judgment rather than pedophilia.

The trial attorney also testified at the hearing, admitting that he had no strategic reason for not calling a mental health expert to testify at the sentencing phase of the trial: "I don't believe that I necessarily had a reason not to or to do that," he testified. "I don't know why I didn't call someone like that."

The appellate court rejected the prosecution’s argument that the jury would have found Dr. Geis biased because he had worked for the public defender in the past. Geis is a research professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The defense lawyer's "failure to call Dr. Geis or a similar expert during the sentencing phase fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," the appellate court unanimously held.