Assigned Counsel Now Take On Wider Variety Of Cases
Dylan P. Kletter is a young lawyer at the international firm of Brown Rudnick. Most of his time is spent representing private equity investment funds. But from time to time Kletter thinks it's important for lawyers like himself to see "how the other half lives" and, at the same time, gain valuable court experience.
That's why Kletter applied to the state's assigned counsel program to serve as a defense attorney in appellate cases in which the state Public Defender's Office has a conflict of interest.
Call it beginner's luck or maybe just getting the right case at the right time, but Kletter recently won his first case as an assigned counsel, appealing a man's ineffective assistance of counsel claim that had been rejected by a habeas court. In a rare occurrence, the state Appellate Court sided with Kletter's client; Kletter had expected to lose "many times over" before successfully appealing a habeas ruling.
"It's such a rare win," said Kletter, noting that people have reached out to him to congratulate him, including Stamford Public Defender Barry Butler. "I did truly believe he had a very good claim and I'm very pleased as to how it turned out."
Kletter's client is Branden Holloway, who was arrested in November 2005 following a drug bust. In addition to a gun charge and other drug charges, Holloway was convicted of possession of narcotics with the intent to sell within 1,500 feet of a public housing project. Kletter explained that a conviction on the latter charge requires more than a defendant being found with illegal drugs within 1,500 feet of a housing project.
"This crime requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to sell it within 1,500 feet," said Kletter. "If you were walking within 1,500 feet of a [housing project] and had in your pocket a saleable amount of cocaine… the state must prove you intended to sell it within 1,500 feet, rather than walking past it and intending to sell it a mile down the road."
Kletter said the jury instruction issued by the judge at Holloway's trial was misleading on this point, but that Holloway's public defender, David Marantz, never challenged the instruction. This charge alone meant three years behind bars. Holloway's total sentence was 11 years.
Holloway's initial appeal of the case to the Appellate Court also did not challenge the jury instruction. While in prison, Holloway filed a habeas ineffective assistance of counsel claim, which did cite the jury instruction. But the habeas court ruled that the instruction was proper, and thus the public defender did nothing by not challenging it.
That's when Kletter came in — as Holloway's final hope of getting those three years lopped off his sentence. Kletter challenged the habeas ruling to the Appellate Court. The judges ruled that the jury instruction was improper, and so Holloway's lawyer provided ineffective counsel when he failed to challenge it.
"It is clear beyond question that the trial court's instructions… were constitutionally deficient because they omitted all references to or explanation of the intended location-of-sale element of that offense," wrote Appellate Judge Michael R. Sheldon.