United States v. Bergman, No. 12-1373 (10th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Defendant-appellant Gwen Bergman was arrested when the hit-man she thought she hired to kill her husband was in fact an undercover police officer. After trial, it emerged that defendant's lawyer was not a lawyer-in-fact, but a con man. Defendant applied for habeas relief on the ground that she received ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court agreed with her: the court vacated her conviction, and discharged her from supervised release (she had finished her prison term). Assuming the court's decision to vacate the conviction it won at defendant's first trial was without prejudice to a new trial with a (real) defense lawyer, the government asked the court to set a date. The district court refused, stating that its discharge order "implicitly" forbade any effort to secure a valid conviction at a second trial. The government appealed the district court's decision to the Tenth Circuit. The government's appeal raised the question of whether defendant could be exposed to a new trial and lawful conviction despite having successfully petitioned for habeas relief and served her jail sentence. Rather than contend categorically that only double jeopardy problems may preclude retrial, the government suggested that the remedy the district court selected was too attenuated from the right it found violated: defendant's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. "[T]he presumptively appropriate remedy for a trial with an ineffective lawyer is a new trial with an effective one. . . . the district court failed to identify any reason why that presumption is inapplicable here; and in these circumstances refusing a new trial amounts to an abuse of discretion."