Failure to give competent summation can have an impact on habeas corpus cases. You can learn more here.
In Herring v. New York, 422 U.S. 853 (1975), the Supreme Court stated:
It can hardly be questioned that closing argument serves to sharpen and clarify the issues for resolution by the trier of fact in a criminal case. For it is only after all the evidence is in that counsel for the parties are in a position to present their respective versions of the case as a whole. Only then can they are the inferences to be drawn from all the testimony, and point out the weaknesses of their adversaries’ positions. And, for the defense, closing argument is the last clear chance to persuade the trier of fact that there may be reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt. See In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358.
The very premise of our adversary system of criminal justice is that partisan advocacy on both sides of a case will best promote the ultimate objection that the guilty be convicted and the innocent go free. In a criminal trial, which is, in the end, basically a factfinding process, no aspect of such advocacy could be more important than the opportunity finally to marshal the evidence for each side before submission of the case to judgment. Id. at 862. Thus, a competent summation is critical to the outcome of the case.
When Summation is Incompetent
In Skakel v. Warden, Tolland J.D., at Rockville, Docket No. CV-10 -4003762 (Bishop, J.T.R), the habeas court found trial counsel’s summation constitutionally deficient, stating [counsel’s] closing argument was both inadequate and improper. His argument was, in the main, an unfocused running commentary on the state’s evidence. Failing even to mention the notion of reasonable doubt or to put the claim of third party culpability against Littleton into context, [counsel’s] argument did not provide the jury with any template for decision making. Mem. of Dec., Oct. 23, 2013, p. 127-28, 130.
Cases that discuss an incompetent summation include Fair v. Warden, 211 Conn. 398, 401, 410-11 (1989)(statement during summation that “there was not much question on the robbery charge,” even if constitutionally deficient, did not result in prejudice); United States v. Hammonds, 425 F.2d 597, 600-04 (D.C. Cir. 1970)(counsel’s “omissions and errors, and particularly the futile closing argument” established ineffective assistance); Matthews v. United States, 449 F.2d 985, 987-88 (D.C. Cir. 1971)(“casual summation” constitutionally deficient but no prejudice); Cowgill v. Zimmerman, 667 F.Supp. 1083, 1086-87 (E.D.Pa. 1987)(referring to defendant as “wise ass” and “son of a bitch” in closing argument constituted constitutional deficiency under Strickland, but no prejudice).
Deficient and Prejudice Closing Argument
Quartararo v. Fogg, 679 F.Supp. 212, 237-53 (E.D.N.Y. 1988)(closing argument constitutionally deficient and prejudice resulted under Strickland ), aff’d, 849 F.2d 1467 (2nd Cir. 1988); United States ex rel. Kubat v. Thieret, 679 F.Supp. 788, 812 (N.D.Ill. 1988)(ineffectiveness found and death sentence reversed due in part to “counsel’s closing argument—a rambling, incoherent discourse that was more likely to confuse than to persuade the jury”), aff’d, 867 F.2d 351 (7th Cir. 1989); and Mathis v. Zant, 704 F.Supp. 1062 (N.D.Ga. 1989)(ineffectiveness found and death sentence reversed due in part to constitutionally deficient closing argument and prejudice).
Accordingly, an incompetent summation can and should be alleged as a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in the habeas petition.