Richardson v. Superintendent Coal Township SCI, No. 15-4105 (3d Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
In 2003, Richardson and his son burgled two empty homes and fled from police. During a high-speed car chase, he rammed into a police car and crashed into a utility pole. He was convicted of burglary, criminal conspiracy, theft, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and flight from a police officer. Mid-sentencing, Richardson decided that he was dissatisfied with his lawyer and sought to fire him. The sentencing judge treated Richardson’s request as waiving his right to counsel but did not, as the Sixth Amendment requires, question Richardson to ensure that his waiver was knowing and voluntary. Richardson’s post-sentencing and state-habeas lawyers both overlooked this error. The Third Circuit remanded to the district court to grant habeas corpus relief and order a new sentencing hearing. In Pennsylvania state court, the post-sentencing-motions stage is a critical stage at which a defendant is entitled to the effective assistance of counsel. Richardson was denied that right because his post-sentencing lawyer was ineffective. The line dividing trial from appeal falls naturally at the notice of appeal. Post-sentencing motions precede the notice of appeal, so they fall on the trial side of the line; when a state-habeas lawyer fails to raise a post-sentencing lawyer’s ineffectiveness, the prisoner may raise that issue for the first time in his federal habeas petition. Richardson’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim is meritorious.