Steffes v. Thurmer, No. 09-3317 (7th Cir. 2011)Annotate this Case
Defendant left his seriously dysfunctional home at age 14 and began living with an adult who sold him to older men for sex. They were joined by two young girls. The four engaged in group sex. Defendant was convicted of first degree sexual assault of a child, based on oral sex performed on defendant (then age 15) by a 12-year-old, and sentenced to 40 years. Wisconsin state courts rejected his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court denied a petition for habeas corpus. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that defendant received constitutionally ineffective assistance from his trial counsel, who failed to request a jury instruction including the statutory words defining the charged offense: "either by the defendant or upon the defendant's instruction." The state court determination that any error was not prejudicial was not unreasonable, in light of the circumstances surrounding the incident and the possibility that the statutory language court be read as covering situations in which a defendant allowed the sexual conduct. The court noted that it was not unmindful of the circumstances that led defendant to the situation and that it trusted the parole board to take those circumstances into account.