Oaks v. Pfister, No. 15-2924 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
In 1992, Oaks was indicted in Illinois for the murder of his girlfriend’s three‐year‐old son. Oaks had no income or assets. His family provided $2,000 to retain an attorney, who asked for state funds for expert witnesses: an investigator, a forensic pathologist, a mitigation expert, and a psychiatrist. The court denied the request. The lawyer withdrew, asserting that the ruling made him unable to represent his client “in good conscience.” The court appointed a public defender. Oaks was convicted and sentenced to death. Oaks did not raise the choice of counsel in his direct appeal. Oaks first raised that issue in a pro se post‐conviction petition filed in state court and asserted that his appellate counsel had been ineffective in failing to raise the issue on direct appeal. The court appointed post‐conviction counsel, who filed an amended petition that did not raise either the choice of counsel claim or the appellate counsel claim. The trial court then dismissed the petition as moot and lacking merit. Oaks filed a federal habeas petition, raising the choice of counsel issue and ineffective assistance of appellate counsel issues. The district court denied the petition. The court held and the Seventh Circuit affirmed that those claims had been procedurally defaulted and lacked merit.