Conviction Reversal Illustrates Importance of Competent Defense Counsel

Rafael Madrigal, Jr. embraced his children—Kimberly, 8, Raphael, 11, and Andrew, 15—and his wife Veronica after his release in October 2009 from a California prison. See video (here). A federal judge overturned his conviction for attempted murder related to a drive-by shooting after Madrigal had served 9 years in prison. The reversal was based on evidence supporting Madrigal’s innocence that his attorney never presented to the jury.

As reported (here) by the California Innocence Project, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess granted a petition filed by the California Innocence Project and Attorney Eric Multhaup. The decision followed the recommendation of U.S. Magistrate Judge Marc Goldman.

Madrigal was convicted primarily on eyewitness’s selection of his photo from a photo lineup.

Based on evidence presented at an evidentiary hearing years after Madrigal’s conviction, it would have been impossible for Madrigal to have been at the crime scene. He always claimed innocence and said he was at work 35 miles away. He was the only person at Proactive Packaging & Display in Rancho Cucamonga qualified to operate a laminating machine at the plant, and his supervisor indicated that his absence would have impacted production.

A secretly recorded audio tape of a phone conversation between another man convicted with Madrigal also indicated that Madrigal wasn’t involved and didn’t know who was responsible for the shooting.

Additionally, Madrigal passed a polygraph test administered by a 23-year FBI veteran.

A law student working with the California Innocence Project told ABC 7 News (here), “For me it really solidified how important criminal defense work is. If Mr. Madrigal had gotten an attorney to begin with who did a sufficient job, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Bad lawyering” has been one of many consistent contributors to wrongful convictions. In retrospect, the evidence supporting innocence often appears obvious and substantial in many cases. However, if discovered after conviction due to an inadequate investigation or effort by defense counsel, correcting the error is often a laborious, time-consuming, costly endeavor. The California Innocence Project quantified the financial cost of Madrigal’s wrongful incarceration alone to be $405,000.

5 responses to “Conviction Reversal Illustrates Importance of Competent Defense Counsel

  1. In the cases I’ve worked over the past five years in five different states, “bad lawyering” on the part of the defense is commonly a major contributor to wrongful convictions. In some cases it’s even downright incompetent.

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Stopping wrongful convictions starts with proper defense and advocacy from the very start…

  3. My son, William John Ziegler, has been battling for his life, literally, for over a decade now. And while “bad lawyering” on the part of the defense is a major contributor to wrongful convictions, how much accountability should be expected from prosecutors? Due to ‘procedural bars’ many cases will be overturned under claims of ‘ineffective assistance of counsel’ rather than the actual misconduct of prosecutors, police investigators, etc.

    The need for exceptional (not just competent and let alone incompetent) defense lawyering arises due to misconduct and political pandering – by the very people we entrust to uphold the law. And while a competent defense is crucial, it is also crucial that we start holding the investigators and prosecutors accountable for their actions when they skirt the law, instead of giving them a free pass, so to speak.

    I don’t know of a more incompetent attorney that my son’s lead counsel, Habib Yazdi, but we need stronger deterrents in place for prosecutor/police misconduct as well.

  4. Reblogged this on Finally Home Rescue's Blog and commented:
    This is what I am facing, yet I have countless people telling me I have NO right to competent counsel… One minute they tell me I have to find my own attorney & when I do they say I don’t have the right to pick & choose… Really???

  5. hi my brother is now serving a 50year to life sentence for a crime he did not commit,due to bad lawering truely,it was. he fell asleep ,had no one talking to family,did not do a complete investigation,said one thing ,but did another,not really informing the family nor my brother.he was convicted on murder with no evidence of a gun just hearsay,no witnesses to point him at the crime .

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