Failure to Prepare Psychiatric Expert Witness is Ruled Ineffective Counsel


The US Court of Appeals in Wilson v. Sirmons, 536 F. 3d 1064 – Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit 2008, dealt with a death row inmate seeking a writ of habeas corpus.


The court stated:


Trial counsel’s preparation for the sentencing phase, in sum, fell below acceptable standards on numerous levels. First, he did not hire an expert until just a few weeks before trial, and he waited until the sentencing phase began to meet with that expert. This time crunch prevented trial counsel from providing the expert relevant information that could have corrected flaws in the testing and from conducting further investigation based on the leads the expert developed. We know now that, with time for retesting and with additional collateral information, the expert would have arrived at a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Second, he failed to conduct even the most basic investigation: meeting with family members. These interviews would have provided significant information related to Mr. Wilson’s background and mental health. Finally, he did not even present the mental health diagnoses that the expert was able to develop prior to testifying. Neither the delay nor the failure to investigate could have been strategic, and the State does not claim that they were. The failure to present the expert’s full mental health diagnoses to the jury does not appear to be strategic, and the State does not claim that it was. This performance, taken as a whole, falls short of the standard set by the Supreme Court in Williams, Wiggins, and Rompilla.