Saucier v. Commissioner of Correction
Appellate counsel's strategy of culling out weaker claims was sound, not deficient, practice, particularly when based upon a thorough review of the trial record and relevant case law. Following a jury trial, Richard Saucier was convicted of counts of first degree sexual assault and of kidnapping. Both appellate courts affirmed his conviction. He filed an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that he was denied effective assistance by his trial counsel, Gregory St. John, and by his appellate counsel, Glenn Falk. He contended that his trial counsel failed to cross-examine the state's DNA expert as to the biological source of the victim's DNA found on the petitioner's body and to call a DNA expert to testify about the possibility of an indirect DNA transfer. The petitioner alleged that appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to brief to the Appellate Court the issue of whether the trial court properly excluded certain hearsay testimony, a failure that caused the Supreme Court to deem the claim abandoned. The habeas court denied the petition and denied certification to appeal. The petitioner appealed claiming that the court erred in finding that both counsel did not provide him with ineffective assistance. The Appellate Court dismissed the appeal. The habeas court did not err in determining that the petitioner failed to meet his burden of showing actual prejudice from St. John's decisions regarding the DNA evidence. The habeas court explained that given the victim's testimony, her immediate report of the crime, witnesses' testimony to her having run naked into a hair salon and then a luncheonette to call police and the medical and photographic evidence of her injuries, it was unlikely that the fact that the "specific biological source of the victim's DNA found on the petitioner's penis was unknown and the fact that indirect transfer of DNA is theoretically possible would have rendered the petitioner's testimony of what happened more credible or would have created reasonable doubt as to his guilt." The habeas court correctly determined that appellate counsel's representation was not deficient. Falk made his tactical decision to focus on the strongest claims after considering the relevant case law and whether the challenged claim was properly preserved, and after consultation with other experienced counsel.