Following a jury trial, Sandra Flores-Rivera was convicted, along with several co-defendants, of several offenses connected to a drug-trafficking conspiracy. Shortly after the verdict, it came to light that the Government had failed to disclose Brady material about the credibility of its key witnesses in the case. All of Flores-Rivera’s co-defendants raised this issue on appeal, and the First Circuit vacated their convictions and remanded their cases for new trials. Flores-Rivera’s appellate attorney, however, did not raise that ground, and her own appeal was denied.
Flores-Rivera then filed a motion to vacate her conviction and sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that her appellate council was ineffective for failing to raise the Brady claim. The district court denied the motion, and she appealed.
The First Circuit reversed that decision, remanding the case to the district court with the order that Flores-Rivera’s conviction and sentence be vacated. Any reasonable attorney would have known of the availability of the Brady claim since the co-defendants all raised it and since trial counsel had preserved the issue by raising it in his motion for new trial. Forgoing this obvious and strong claim in favor of the paltry ones that were raised was a choice resembling “rejecting a lifeboat in favor of two lily pads” and could not be considered valid strategy.
Appeal from the District of Puerto Rico
Opinion by Kayatta, joined by Selya and Barron
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