A review of convictions overturned by DNA testing reveals a trail of sleeping, drunk, incompetent and overburdened defense attorneys, at the trial level and on appeal.
Eddie Joe Lloyd was convicted of a brutal 1984 murder of a sixteen-year-old girl in Detroit, Michigan. While in a hospital receiving treatment for his mental illness, Eddie wrote to police with suggestions on how to solve various murders, including the murder for which he was convicted. Police convinced Eddie that by confessing to the murder and getting arrested, he would help them “smoke out” the real perpetrator. They fed him details that he could not have known and Eddie signed a written confession, giving a tape recorded statement as well.
Eddie was represented during pre-trial by a court-appointed attorney who received $150 for pre-trial preparation and investigation. This attorney gave $50 of this to a convicted felon, who conducted no investigation into Lloyd’s mental state or confession.
This lawyer withdrew from the case eight days before trial and another attorney was appointed but the trial was not postponed. The new trial attorney did not meet with the pre-trial attorney. He did not question the details of the investigation and did not cross-examine the police officer most directly involved in the coerced confession. He called no defense witnesses and gave a five minute closing argument. The attorney lamented in the press that Eddie would not permit an insanity defense, saying, “With a psychiatric plea, we might have had a chance. If he’s not goofy, there’s not a dog in Texas.” Lloyd insisted that, despite his mental illness, he was innocent. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before convicting him of first degree felony murder.
An attorney appointed to file Eddie’s direct appeal did not visit him in prison or raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Eddie wrote to the court saying his appellate assistance was lacking, and the appellate attorney wrote that Eddie should not be taken seriously because he was “guilty and should die.” All of Eddie's appeals failed due to lack of effective counsel until he contacted the Innocence Project for assistance in 1995.
The resources of the justice system are often stacked against poor defendants. Matters only become worse when a person is represented by an ineffective, incompetent or overburdened defense lawyer.
The failure of overworked lawyers to investigate, call witnesses or prepare for trial has led to the conviction of innocent people. When a defense lawyer doesn't do his or her job, the defendant suffers. Shrinking funding and access to resources for public defenders and court-appointed attorneys is only making the problem worse.
A review of convictions overturned by DNA testing reveals a trail of sleeping, drunk, incompetent and overburdened defense attorneys, at the trial level and on appeal. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Innocent defendants are convicted or plead guilty in this country with less than adequate defense representation. In the some of the worst cases, lawyers have: