zGaines v. Superintendent Benner Township, No. 21-1918 (3d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Gaines served as the “muscle” in a drug house. Thompson came to the house to buy drugs. Williams, a visitor, told Thompson that the house was “closed,” denied him entry, and told him to leave. Thompson kept knocking and asking to come in. Eventually, Gaines walked outside and an argument ensued. Williams joined them. Gaines ultimately stabbed Thompson multiple times. Williams pulled Gaines off of Thompson. Stab wounds resulted in hemorrhaging that caused Thompson’s death. Gaines was convicted in Pennsylvania state court of first-degree murder in Pennsylvania,
Gaines sought habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The district court granted his petition, holding that Gaines’s trial counsel was ineffective for not objecting to the omission of a jury instruction that no adverse inference could be drawn from Gaines’s election not to testify in his own defense. The Third Circuit reversed. Gaines’s trial counsel made a reasonable tactical choice when he did not object. Counsel testified he was aware that the court failed to give the requested no-adverse-inference instruction, but that he decided not to object because he “was concerned that throwing [the instruction] in at the end" may have drawn undue attention to the fact that Gaines did not testify. He testified that he was satisfied with the charge as it stood because it placed the burden of proof squarely on the Commonwealth and exhaustively detailed the law of self-defense.