Person v. Rawski
ORDER denying 30 Motion for Reconsideration. Signed by Honorable Richard M Gergel on 03/09/2017.(dsto, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Angelia Rawski, Warden,
Civil Action No. 4: 15-4606-RMG
ORDER AND OPINION
On February 8, 2017, this Court granted Respondent's motion for summary judgment and
dismissed the petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Okt. No. 28.) This matter is before the Court on
Petitioner's motion for this Court to reconsider and alter that judgment. (Okt. No. 30; Fed. R.
Civ. P. 59.)
Petitioner challenges the Court's ruling that Petitioner's trial counsel were not ineffective
in their decision to call Or. Collins as an expert witness (Ground Two of the habeas petition).
Specifically, Petitioner has asked the Court to examine whether the South Carolina Supreme
Court's decision in Ingle v. State, 560 S.E.2d 401 (S.C. 2002), supports the opposite conclusion.
This Court cited Ingle for the proposition that defense counsel may be ineffective for failing to
investigate a witness's testimony when that testimony directly contradicts the theory of the
defense. (Okt. No. 28 at 10.) Petitioner now asks, "Why is Mr. Ingle granted relief because his
counsel did not do a complete investigation, but Andrea Person is denied relief even though her
counsel knew they were calling an expert whose testimony was adverse to Person on the primary
issue in the case?" (Okt. No. 30 at 2.)
This Court has outlined the differences between defense counsel's failure to investigate in
Ingle and defense counsel's strategic decision to call Or. Collins in this case. (Okt. No. 28 at 10
12.) The theory of the defense in Petitioner's case was that Petitioner gave a false confession to
police and that the Victim died of pneumonia, not smothering. In the face of strong expert
medical testimony from state witnesses that the Victim's pneumonia was insufficient to cause
death, defense counsel made the strategic decision to call Dr. Collins as a witness because she
was able to provide the strongest expert testimony that the Victim's pneumonia was both
significant and more aligned with the physical symptoms than smothering. (Dkt. No. 1-6 at 451.)
Defense counsel were aware that Dr. Collins was potentially vulnerable on cross-examination,
but she offered perhaps their only hope to challenge the state's strong medical evidence.
Petitioner contends that "the only difference between Ingle and Petitioner's case is that
Ingle's trial counsel had not investigated." (Dkt. No. 30 at 1.) As explained above, the
circumstances in Ingle do not mirror the circumstances in Petitioner's case. The problematic
witness in Ingle was an alibi witness, and defense counsel failed to ascertain how she would
testify before putting her on the stand. The allegedly problematic witness in Petitioner's case is a
highly trained medical professional called to provide evidence on a very specific medical point:
whether Petitioner's pneumonia was significant enough to cause the Victim's death. Even if, as
Petitioner contends, the "only" difference between the two cases is that defense counsel in Ingle
failed to investigate, that difference is paramount in light of long-standing Supreme Court
precedent on ineffective assistance of counsel claims: "strategic choices made after thorough
investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options are virtually unchallengeable."
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 690 (1984); see also Boseman v. Bazzle, 364 F. App'x
796, 809-13 (4th Cir. 20 I 0); Wilkinson v. Polk, 227 F. App'x 210, 217 (4th Cir. 2007).
Petitioner's counsel investigated Dr. Collins's opinions and made the strategic decision to call
her as a witness despite the risks they identified. The Court will not second-guess trial counsel's
strategy in a trial fraught with difficult strategic choices when trial counsel appreciated and
navigated the possible courses of action to the best of their abilities.
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.
United States District Court Judge
Charleston, South Carolina
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