Olsen v. State

In Olsen v. State, 67 P.3d 536 (Wyo. 2003), the Court considered whether defense counsel's strategic decision to admit that the defendant shot the victims and then use an intoxication defense to establish that he could not have formed the requisite intent for first-degree murder constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court held the concession was tactically a reasonable attempt to avoid a first-degree murder conviction in light of Olsen's several confessions that he shot the victims. In reaching this result, the Court cited Nielsen v. Hopkins, 58 F.3d 1331, 1335 (8th Cir. 1995), in which the court "concluded that admitting the act but denying the requisite mental state by an intoxication defense to first degree murder charges is not the functional equivalent of a guilty plea. " Id. The Court assumed that Olsen's counsel rendered deficient legal assistance but reasoned: "Despite the lack of record, we do not find that the assumption that counsel's performance was deficient leads to the conclusion that the defense was prejudiced. To show that deficient performance prejudiced his defense, the defendant must demonstrate that, when the totality of the circumstances is considered, there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's deficient performance, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial." Id. The Court held that neither the death penalty statute nor the general victim impact statute authorized the introduction of victim impact evidence during capital sentencing and, therefore, the trial court erred in allowing its introduction. The Court recognized, however, that such error is usually subject to our harmless error analysis. Id. at P176. In Olsen, the Court found such analysis unnecessary, however, because we reversed on other errors and remanded for new sentencing. Id.