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Client Successes, News

Schnader Helps Secure Appellate Victory with Significant Implications for Claims of Actual Innocence

08/03/2018

Stephen A. Fogdall and Meghan A. Higgins provided pro bono assistance which helped to vacate the second degree murder conviction in Jerry Reeves v. Fayette SCI. In a precedential decision, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the lower court in a habeas corpus case, in which Schnader’s amicus brief was cited in the concurring opinion.

 

Fogdall and Higgins submitted the amicus brief in support of Reeves on behalf of former prosecutors, members of the judiciary, and law enforcement officers. The technical issue the court faced was clarifying the showing of “actual innocence” required to allow an otherwise time-barred claim of ineffective assistance of counsel to go forward. Some circuits had held that the necessary showing of actual innocence required new evidence that had not been discovered at the time of trial. Schnader’s brief argued persuasively that this standard is unworkable where counsel’s ineffectiveness was precisely the failure to present the evidence of innocence in the first place. Instead, in such cases, the evidence of innocence is “new” where counsel failed to present it at trial.

 

However, this case did not simply involve a technical question regarding the newness of evidence. Rather, the case involved significant evidence that the petitioner was factually innocent of the crime, evidence that was compellingly described in our brief. Indeed, Judge McKee explicitly references Schnader’s amicus brief to demonstrate the weight of the petitioner’s claim of innocence in footnote 2 of his concurring opinion.

 

Our drive to fight zealously for justice is nothing new to Schnader. Bernard G. Segal helped to found Schnader upon the premise that lawyers have an ongoing “obligation to assume an active role in the pursuit of a just and ordered society, in helping to solve the emerging problems of social, economic and political importance.” The Criminal Defense and Internal Investigations practice group furthers this important mission by ensuring that our clients are afforded all applicable constitutional and statutory protections and that investigations are conducted with integrity and transparency. The practice group remains cognizant and fully committed to the obligation incumbent upon every lawyer to provide pro bono services and to that end regularly represents litigants who lack the means to defend themselves.