Defendant charged with burglarizing police precinct.
New York’s highest has again denied an ineffective assistance claim, saying, “A defendant is entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect trial.” People v. Cummings (NY 2011). The defendant was convicted of burglarizing a police precinct, a place where your average crook would want to sneak out of, not in.
The perfectionist standard to which criminal trials are held has been a serious problem for decades, driving many a fine jurist into less demanding fields, such as brain surgery or skydiving. The annals of law are replete with judges, defense lawyers and even prosecutors having nervous breakdowns over their inability to provide criminal defendants with a perfect trial.
According to the Court, a trial is fair so long as the defense attorney’s mistake is not “egregious.” This would seem to conflict with the silly old federal constitutional standard requiring only that an attorney’s mistake be “unreasonable” before looking to see whether it affected the trial.
It’s high time for a change. “A fair trial, not a perfect trial” should be carved onto the facade of every courthouse in the state. For appellate courts, the inscription should be, “Good enough for government work.”