In Castillo v. Florida Sec. of DOC, No. 12-13053 (July 22, 2013), the Court reversed the grant of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for robbery.
At trial, viewing the unclear facts in the light most favorable to the defendant, her defense counsel failed to object when the jury retired to deliberate even though one of the jurors had missed an entire day of testimony.
The district court had analogized the circumstances to the complete deprivation of the assistance of counsel, a per se prejudicial error under U.S. v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648 (1984). Rejecting this reasoning, the Court noted that Cronic was limited to the “complete” denial of counsel. Here, Castillo’s counsel actively participated in the trial, giving an opening statement, cross-examining witnesses, and giving a closing argument urging acquittal. Consequently, assuming counsel’s failure to object was ineffective assistance, Castillo was still required to show “prejudice” under Strickland v. Washington. Castillo failed to show prejudice, because all of the witnesses who testified on the day the juror missed trial were prosecution witnesses, and all of the testimony they gave was incriminating (and Castillo did not testify in her defense).