Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Schwab: Public Defender Conflict Not Prejudicial

In Schwab v. Crosby, No. 05-14253 (June 15, 2006), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1991 murder.
The Court rejected Schwab’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on the fact that his lawyer, a public defender, declined to cross-examine fellow lawyers from the public defender’s office who were called to the stand to testify about the chain of custody of an incriminating letter Schwab sent to the public defender’s office. The Court noted that no prejudice arose because the testimony was about uncontested aspects of the chain of custody.
The Court also rejected the argument that Schwab’s counsel was presumptively prejudiced by the conflict of interest of the public defender’s office. The Court noted the deferrence provisions of AEDPA, as well as the Teague limitation on retroactivity of Supreme Court cases in habeas. The Court found that no Supreme Court had clearly held that prejudice would be presumed in Schwab’s case, that is, outside the multiple representation context, and therefore rejected the presumed prejudice argument.
The Court also found harmless any error in the Florida trial court’s description of the evidence in mitigation, noting that the "horrendous facts" of the case (the defendant sexually assaulted the victim before strangling him to death) indicated that any error was outweighed by the aggravating factors.