Last week, the Sixth Circuit decided United States v. Coleman, which held counsel was not constitutionally ineffective in accepting an in-court appointment on a supervised release violation, briefly reviewing the case, and then proceeding with the hearing. Defense counsel was appointed at the beginning of the hearing when the defendant expressed dissatisfaction with his current appointed counsel. The district court then briefing recessed, and defense counsel spent twelve minutes reviewing the case before proceeding with the violation hearing.
When Court resumed, Mr. Coleman did not contest the violation. The district court offered to adjourn the hearing to allow Mr. Coleman additional time to prepare, but he advised the court that he wanted to get the hearing over with. The Sixth Circuit looked to its decision in Fuller v. Sherry, 405 F. App'x. 980 (6th Cir. 2010), which analyzed belated appointments under the United States v. Chronic, 466 U.S. 648 (1984), five-factor framework for ineffectiveness. The Court concludes, "Although we acknowledge that twelve minutes would ordinarily be a relatively short amount of time for an attorney to investigate and prepare for a revocation hearing, Coleman did not—and does not now—contest the charges against him."
Specifically, the Coleman Court acknowledged that additional time might have allowed for more extensive mitigation to be presented. But because newly appointed counsel did raise Mr. Coleman's substance abuse problem - the primary mitigation in his case - defense counsel did not "entirely" fail to put the case to adversarial testing. The Sixth Circuit, in affirming Mr. Coleman's sentence on the violation, also compared Mr. Coleman's case to cases in which it found ineffective assistance based on far more egregious facts. Ultimately, the presumption of prejudice was not applied in Coleman "given that Coleman’s revocation hearing presented his attorney with a relatively simple task for which extensive preparation would have been of questionable value."
Judge Clay dissented from the majority, writing "such circumstances cannot possibly satisfy the constitutional requirement that a defendant be afforded effective legal representation." In dissenting, Judge Clay wrote that prejudice in Mr. Coleman's case must be presumed, because no defense attorney could digest more than thirty pages of presentence investigation report and violation report, as well as consult with a client, in the time allotted. Applying Chronic, the dissent concluded that "no lawyer—not even the most experienced and competent criminal defense attorney—could provide the kind of assistance of counsel required by the Sixth Amendment in just twelve minutes"."
Mr. Coleman also argued his sentence was procedurally unreasonable, because he received a sentence above the Guideline range. The Sixth Circuit determined the colloquoy at the violation hearing was sufficient to support the variance.