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State v. Oscar Lopez WSSC #944181

On October 4, 2017 WACDL filed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Lopez asking the WSSC to overturn a COA decision which reversed the trial court decision to grant Mr. Lopez a new trial based on the determination that defense counsel's severe depression affected his performance before and during trial.


Whether the COA erred by ruling (1) that Mr. Lopez' counsel acted effectively despite not calling witnesses to testify as to Lopez's good reputation for sexual morality in the community; and, (2) that there does not exist an independent due process right to representation by an attorney who does not suffer from mental illness, severe depression in this case which verged on suicide according to the attorney's own admission to his long term investigator.

WACDL Amicus

When a trial court grants a new trial baed upon the determination that defense counsel's mental illness affected the fairness of a criminal trial, that order is entitled to a much stronger showing of abuse of discretion before it is reversed. Additionally, when a trial court makes the determination that mental illness rendered defense counsel's trial performance deficient under Strickland v. Washington, that conclusion should be deemed structural error and the prejudice prong normally required by Strickland need not be shown.


In a divided opinion, 5-4, the court reversed the decision of the COA and reinstated the trial court decision granting Mr. Lopez a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. In the ruling the court declined to find that a trial counsel suffering from mental illness is a per se presumption of ineffective assistance of counsel. But, when counsel's ability to adequately represent a client is as a result of a disability the proper focus is on the attorney's performance, not the disability. The disability may be considered when evaluating the performance of counsel to rebut the presumption that there was a tactical reason for the decisions made.

Additionally, the court determined that greater deference to the decision of the trial court to grant a new trial did not apply as on appeal this case presented mixed questions of law and fact and as a result the trial court's factual findings were reviewed for substantial evidence and its legal conclusions de novo.

WACDL Amicus Author

Tom Weaver

Appellate Author

George Trejo

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