Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111 (Mar. 24, 2009)

Counsel was not ineffective by recommending that the defendant withdraw his insanity defense. The defendant entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) at his first-degree murder trial in state court. State procedure required a bifurcated trial consisting of a guilt phase followed by a NGI phase. During the guilt phase, the defendant sought, through medical testimony, to show that he was insane and thus incapable of premeditation and deliberation. The jury nevertheless convicted him of first-degree murder. For the NGI phase, the defendant had the burden of showing insanity. Counsel had planned to meet that burden presenting medical testimony similar to that offered in the guilt phase. Although counsel had planned to offer additional testimony of the defendant’s parents, counsel learned that the parents were refusing to testify. At this point, counsel advised the defendant to withdraw his NGI plea and the defendant complied. Defense counsel was not ineffective by recommending withdrawal of a defense that counsel reasonably believed was doomed to fail. The defendant’s medical testimony already had been rejected in the guilt phase and the defendant’s parents’ expected testimony, which counsel believed to be the strongest evidence, was no longer available. Counsel is not required to raise claims that are almost certain to lose. Additionally, the defendant did now show prejudice; it was highly improbable that jury that had just rejected testimony about the defendant’s mental state when the state bore the burden of proof would have reached a different result when the defendant presented similar evidence at the NFI phase.