Noted criminal defense attorney Randy Schaffer of The Schaffer Firm in Houston gave some advice for avoiding ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims to a group of lawyers who attended the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting earlier this month.
Schaffer's overriding tip -- don't practice defensively.
"You can be an effective trial lawyer and still preserve error for appeal," Schaffer said during the talk at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
Here are some of Schaffer's tips for avoiding ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims:
Don't be afraid to object. He said he doesn't believe a jury gets mad when lawyers do their jobs. "It is never sound strategy to ever fail to object to inadmissible evidence," he said.
Make good use of a motion in limine. For instance, use the motion in limine to make sure prosecutors aren't able to offer opinions on the guilt or innocence of a defendant.
Pay attention to word choice. Don't use words like "defendant," "victim," "murder" or "crime scene" during a trial.
Document the file. Get everything in writing, particularly when a client rejects a plea bargain.
Do background checks of key defense witnesses.
Do not overstate the case during opening statements. Never tell jurors that evidence will prove a client innocent, or announce that specific individuals will testify.