Joseph Reddy v. Kelly, 2016 WL 5403918 (6th Cir., filed September 28, 2016). Non-capital Habeas Win on IAC Claim!

October 10th, 2016
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

Reddy was convicted of the aggravated murder of his mother.  At sentencing, Reddy’s lawyer asked the court to consider evidence that Reddy suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which had not been offered at trial.  On appeal, Reddy argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his aggravated murder conviction, and that counsel was ineffective for failing to introduce the PTSD evidence at trial.  The Ohio appellate court changed his aggravated murder conviction to regular murder.  It did not address his PTSD claim.  Reddy then raised the ineffective assistance/ PTSD claim in federal habeas, and the district court denied his petition.   Then, here, on appeal, the Sixth Circuit, reversed (but, beware as it is unpublished).

The facts of the case are sad (as these sorts of cases generally are).  Reddy was arrested for the murder of his mother, a woman with a long history of abusing her children.

Reddy was indicted for aggravated murder, a crime which requires the additional element that the defendant acted “with prior calculation and design.”  A defendant may present mitigating evidence to obtain an instruction on involuntary manslaughter.  Reddy waived his right to a jury trial and proceeded to a bench trial.  Reddy’s lawyer asked the court to find Reddy “guilty of something less than aggravated murder.”  The court found Reddy guilty of aggravated murder.  The court then scheduled a sentencing hearing.  Trial counsel asked the court to review a report written by Dr. John Fabian, a forensic and clinical psychologist who trial counsel had hired to assess Reddy’s psychological and psychiatric state as a part of a competency evaluation.  The parties later stipulated to Reddy’s competency so the report did not come to the judge’s attention at that time.

In his report, Dr. Fabian noted that he administered the Detailed Assessment of Posttraumatic Stress (DAPS) to assess for posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms.  Reddy scored in the clinically significant range for significant emotional or cognitive distress at the time of the traumatic event.  This, the doctor found, was consistent with the significant and consistent abuse of his mother.  Dr. Fabian found that Reddy qualified for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  He further found a nexus between this disorder and the killing of his mother.  The court did not address the report at sentencing.  He sentenced Reddy to 20 years to life imprisonment.  He also appointed appellate counsel.

On appeal, one of the issues raised was that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to present relevant and available psychiatric testimony regarding Reddy’s state of mind.   In its opinion, the Ohio Court of Appeals agreed that the evidence presented was insufficient to support the aggravated murder conviction, and modified his conviction to find him guilty of murder rather than ordering a new trial.  Reddy appealed to the Supreme Court, and it denied leave to appeal (the arcana of the procedural posture of this case is, of course, recounted in the opinion and is not included here).

Now, for the good stuff.  Reddy raised the issue that his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to present evidence that Reddy suffered from PTSD to the trial court in his habeas petition.  The District Court for the Northern District of Ohio dismissed his petition and denied a certificate of appealability.  Reddy appealed to the Sixth Circuit.  In short, the Court found that counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel:

            “Despite obtaining [Dr. Fabian’s] report, [trial counsel] offered no evidence of PTSD- or any psychiatric evidence—at trial.  Evidence of PTSD would have been vital to Reddy’s defense…The record establishes that [trial counsel’s] decision not to present PTSD evidence was not sound trial strategy.”

Essentially, because mental intent was the heart of Reddy’s defense, it was ineffective for his counsel not to use Dr. Fabian’s finding that Reddy suffers from PTSD.  The Court held that “[Trial counsel’s] decision not to present TPSD evidence warrants relief because the evidence was sufficiently probative of voluntary manslaughter to establish a reasonable probability that the result of Reddy’s trial would have been different.”

Judge Boggs issued a partial concurrence and dissent.  In dissent, he argues that Reddy’s claim fails on the prejudice prong since the PTSD diagnosis was only “provisional.”  He also argues that the trial court judge’s statements already considered that Reddy’s abuse may have caused him to react disproportionately to his mother’s attack of him.  Also, Judge Boggs argues that the trial court judge’s decision was based on the weight of evidence showing that the killing did not happen in the way that Reddy said that it did (and used that as a basis to find the element of “prior calculation and design”).

So, a very nice and important win in the Sixth Circuit.  No doubt this decision will be appealed, so place it on your To Watch List.

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