A Utah appeals court recently overturned the conviction of a Wisconsin-based long-haul trucker.
The 32-year-old trucker was accused of a having oral sex with a 16-year-old girl when he was staying at her parents’ house during a long haul.
The trucker was ultimately convicted of two counts of forcible sodomy, but an appeals court recently overturned this convictions based on irregularities in the trial.
The Legal Right to Effective Counsel
Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are based on a Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel in criminal proceedings. To support an ineffective assistance of counsel claim on appeal, a defendant has to prove that his or her lawyer’s performance fell below an “objective standard of reasonableness.”
These types of appeals are notoriously hard to win because there is a strong presumption that a trial lawyer’s performance was adequate and informed by reasonable professional judgment.
In general, ineffective assistance claims only work when no conceivable legitimate legal tactic or strategy could have driven the actions of a trial lawyer.
Failure to Inquire About an Expert Witness
The purported victim did not report her abuse until a year and a half after it alleged occurred. The ensuing investigation and the fact that the trucker did not live in Utah meant that almost six years passed before the trial occurred.
The trucker denied engaging in sexual conduct with the teen and said that his driving logs would prove that he was not in town at the time the teen alleged that they had oral sex. Moreover, the teen also alleged that an uncharged oral sex incident occurred in Laramie, Wyoming, which the trucker also denied.
During trial, the trucker introduced his driving logs into evidence. The state brought in a civilian transportation specialist for the Utah Highway Patrol to analyze the trucker’s logs. The specialist testified that he ran the logs through a truck routing program called PC*Miller which showed that the records were falsified.
Evidence from the 23B Hearing
After the trial, the trucker requested a 23B hearing, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. During that hearing, it was revealed that the trucker’s trial lawyer failed to inquire about the specialist’s involvement in preparing the PC*Miller report or the data used to generate the report. The attorney also failed to otherwise challenge the testimony of the expert, which undermined his client’s key evidence of his innocence.
During this hearing, the trial court heard testimony from the V.P of ALK Technologies, the company that makes the truck routing software. The V.P. said that the travel time data that the specialist testified about was generated by a 1997 version of the software, not the 2002 version available at the time of the trial.
The V.P. also testified that he could not reproduce the specialist’s numbers using any version of the PC*Miller or any competing software. Moreover, the V.P. testified that his analysis of the trucker’s logs indicates that they were plausible, directly contradicting the testimony of the specialist.
Specialist admitted at 23B hearing that he did not generate the report used at trial and was not present when it was generated. The judge overseeing the hearing found that the specialist lacked “the requisite knowledge, skill, experience, training and education to qualify as an expert for the PC*Miler Program” and that the trucker’s trial counsel was deficient for failing to inquire about the specialist’s credentials and report.
An appeals court agreed with trial court’s assessment of the trial lawyer’s performance, and went on to find that the attorney was also deficient for failing to object to repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments.
“When the cumulative impact of trial counsel’s deficiencies with respect to specialist, the PC*Miler report, and the prosecutor’s misconduct are considered, our confidence in the verdict is undermined,” wrote Utah Appeals court judge Carolyn B. McHugh. “We are convinced that there is a reasonable probability that but for trial counsel’s deficient performance, the outcome of trial would have been different.”
The Salt Lake City criminal defense team at Greg Smith & Associates handles sex crime defense cases throughout Utah. If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been charged with a sex crime, call us at 801-651-1512 or contact us online.