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Photo of Robert A. Scirocco
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Right To Effective Counsel


In 2003, Naquan O’Neil was tried for murder and aggravated manslaughter. His attorneys asserted that he was not guilty of murder because he acted in self-defense but did not assert self-defense to the charge of manslaughter. At the time, self-defense was not permitted as a defense to manslaughter in accordance with the Appellate Division’s ruling in State v. Moore. The trial-court thus instructed the jury that self-defense was a valid defense to murder but no charge was presented to the jury on the issue of aggravated manslaughter. The jury found Mr. O’Neil not guilty of murder but convicted him of aggravated manslaughter.

Sometime after his conviction, but before the resolution of his own appeal, the Appellate Division, in State v. Rodriguez, ruled that a defendant can be acquitted of both murder and aggravated manslaughter if he acted in self-defense. Mr. O’Neil’s counsel, however, did not raise the holding in Rodriguez with the court on appeal. In other words, Mr. O’Neil’s counsel did not explain to the Appellate Division that the jury at his trial should have been instructed that self-defense applies to both murder and aggravated manslaughter. The Supreme Court in State v. O’Neil, found that the failure to raise this issue on appeal constituted ineffective assistance of counsel that denied the defendant of his rights under the Sixth Amendment to the Federal and State Constitutions. The Court explained that at the time of the defendant’s appeal the law as expressed in Rodriguez was binding. Thus, O’Neil’s counsel should have raised the issue of the defense of self-defense to the charge of aggravated manslaughter. Thus, the Court vacated the aggravated manslaughter conviction and remanded for a new trial.