A Connecticut judge last week ordered a new trial for Michael Skakel, the nephew of Robert and Ethel Kennedy. Skakel was convicted in 2002 of the murder of his 15-year-old neighbor, Martha Moxley. The reason? The judge, in his written opinion, stated that Michael Skakel had a “constitutionally deficient” defense. In other words, the judge found Skakel’s trial lawyer to be inadequate.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to the assistance of a lawyer in all criminal prosecutions. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted that amendment to include the right to an effective lawyer. Skakel’s current lawyers argued that his trial lawyer, Mickey Sherman, was inadequate, among other reasons, by failing to explore an alibi defense, failing to effectively cross examine witnesses against Skakel, and by presenting an ineffective closing argument devoid of the term reasonable doubt, the degree of proof required in criminal cases.
The cost of an ineffective lawyer is not simply measured in attorney’s fees, although an article in The New York Times reports that Mickey Sherman billed Skakel over $1.2 million in attorney’s fees. Perhaps, more costly to Skakel was the over ten years he spent in prison for a conviction that may have been the result of his inadequate defense. That is a decade apart from friends and family and the associated life events of birthdays, graduations, and the like. It is the loss of your name and reputation. It is the loss of your freedom.