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Ex parte Briggs – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In Ex parte Briggs, 187 S.W.3d 458 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005), trial counsel was found ineffective for not hiring a medical expert due to economic reasons, not as a result of strategy. Id.

The Court found that there were other remedies that could have been undertaken to provide funding for an expert, and trial counsel had not taken the proper steps to try to receive that funding. Id.

In Ex The Court of criminal appeals granted relief on a petition for habeas corpus, concluding that the attorney's failure to obtain an expert witness constituted ineffective assistance of counsel that affected the result of the prosecution. Briggs pleaded guilty to injuring her child. Id. at 460.

The child had a short, difficult life. He was born with a congenital defect that caused urine to back up into a kidney and prompt an infection. Id. at 461.

He was then involved in an automobile accident while his car seat incorrectly faced forward. He suffered breathing difficulties any time he was held in a position that brought his abdominal organs toward his chest--e.g. when his mother changed his diaper or hugged him. Id.

When he was two months old, Briggs found the child blue and limp, though he had a pulse. She called 911 and performed cardiopulminary respiration until emergency medical technicians arrived, intubated him, and transported him to a hospital. Emergency room personnel reintubated him, incorrectly running the tube into his stomach rather than his lungs. By the time the error was discovered, the child's brain had died. Id.

Briggs's retained attorney reviewed the records, discussed weaknesses in the case with Briggs, and assert-ed that he needed $2,500 to $7,500 additional fees to retain the necessary experts. Id. at 462.

After being paid $10,400 of his $15,000 fee, Briggs's attorney declared that he would withdraw from repre-sentation. Instead, Briggs pleaded guilty. Id. at 463.

Experts hired by habeas counsel provided affidavits declaring that the child's medical records indicated no child abuse and multiple other causes of injury and death, including an undiagnosed birth defect. Id. at 462.

The court of criminal appeals concluded that the medical records trial counsel obtained should have prompted further investigation and wrote, "There is no suggestion that trial counsel declined to fully investi-gate Daniel's medical records because he made a strategic decision that such an investigation was unnec-essary or likely to be fruitless or counterproductive." Id. at 467.

Instead, he stopped investigating solely for financial reasons. Id. at 470. The court found counsel's perfor-mance deficient and further held that, had Briggs obtained the necessary expert review, she likely would not have pleaded guilty and a jury "highly likely" would have found her not guilty. Id. at 470.

This undermining of confidence in the outcome of the original trial caused the court of criminal appeals to vacate Briggs's conviction. Id.

In sum, trial counsel failed to hire an investigator or expert because his client did not provide him with funds to conduct such an investigation.

The court held that counsel did not make a reasonable professional judgment not to hire expert witnesses and that the defendant was prejudiced because evidence admitted after the conviction was sufficient to un-dermine the court's confidence in the outcome of the trial. Id. at 469-70.