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Justices Reverse Convicted Killer's Ineffective Counsel Claims

By Joel Zand on November 09, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a new per curiam opinion issued by the U.S. Supreme Court today, the Justices held that a convicted Ohio killer's "attorneys met the constitutional minimum of competence," reversing a 2008 federal appeals court ruling that his attorneys failed to find certain mitigating factors in his defense in violation of the Sixth Amendment.

How convinced was the Supreme Court of its decision? The justices concluded that:

[t]his is not a case in which the defendant's attorneys failed to act while potentially powerful mitigating evidence stared them in the face,

Under the applicable legal standards at the time, the court concluded that Robert Van Hook could not claim that his attorneys' failed to give him effective assistance of counsel, overruling a 2008 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The case involved Van Hook's 1985 murder of a man that he met at a Cincinnati gay bar, and went with to the victim's apartment, strangling him to death, then stabbing him multiple times in the head and stomach.

Today the Supreme Court held that Van Hook's counsel used "prevailing professional practice at the time" to defend him.

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