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U.S. v. Kauffman

March 28, 1997






(D.C. Criminal No. 92-cr-00268)

BEFORE: ALITO, ROTH and LEWIS, Circuit Judges.

LEWIS, Circuit Judge.


Filed March 28, 1997


Kourtney Kauffman appeals from the order of the district court denying his motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2255, on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel. Kauffman's claim was based, inter alia, on his counsel's failure to conduct any pre-trial investigation, or contact potential witnesses in connection with a possible insanity defense. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2253 and 2255. Because ineffective assistance of counsel claims present mixed questions of law and fact, our review is plenary. Dooley v. Petsock, 816 F.2d 885, 889 (3d Cir. 1987).



On July 19, 1991, Kourtney Kauffman was released, against the advice of his psychiatrists, from Edgewater Psychiatric Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he had been involuntarily committed since July 14, 1991. *fn1 On July 12, 1991, just two days prior to Kauffman's commitment, three shotguns and two rifles were reported stolen from a residence in Hellam Township, Pennsylvania. Kauffman was arrested on July 24, 1991, five days after his discharge from Edgewater, while attempting to sell four of these stolen guns to a firearms dealer in a transaction monitored by the police. *fn2

Immediately following his arrest on July 24, 1991, Kauffman was examined by Dr. Jacob Stacks, a psychiatrist at Harrisburg State Hospital. In a discharge summary prepared by Dr. Stacks, he stated that Kauffman "went into the York County Prison on 7/24/91 with a charge of receiving stolen property. He was undoubtedly psychotic at that time." On March 25, 1992, Dr. Stacks wrote a letter to attorney Steven Zorbaugh, who was representing Kauffman at the time, stating that in his opinion Kauffman was manic and psychotic "at the time of the committing of the crime he was charged with." Despite the exculpatory nature of this letter, Zorbaugh declined to investigate further a possible insanity defense and advised Kauffman to plead guilty.

On February 19, 1993, acting upon the advice of counsel, Kauffman pleaded guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement with the government, to a one-count indictment which charged Kauffman with being a felon in possession of firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 922(g) and 924(c). Kauffman was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 924(e), the mandatory minimum sentence for violation of the armed career criminal offender statute.

On January 24, 1994, Kauffman filed a pro se motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2255 to vacate, set aside or correct sentence, which the district court denied without a hearing on March 25, 1994. Kauffman then retained private counsel and timely filed a second habeas motion on February 13, 1995. In his petition, Kauffman asserted that he was entitled to habeas corpus relief because Zorbaugh rendered ineffective assistance by failing to counsel him regarding his right to proceed to trial and present an insanity defense. Kauffman also contends that his former attorney incorrectly advised him that probation was a possible sentence if a downward departure motion was granted. Moreover, Kauffman contends that his prior counsel should be deemed per se ineffective because his attorney was himself suffering from a debilitating mental condition.

We vacated the judgment of the district court denying Kauffman's second petition and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on December 6, 1995. At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the habeas petition. Kauffman once again appeals. For the reasons which follow, we will reverse and remand to the district court for a new trial.


At the evidentiary hearing ordered by this court, Steven Zorbaugh testified that he remembered Kauffman bringing Dr. Stacks' letter, describing Kauffman as manic and psychotic when he was arrested for the offense, to his law office for review. Zorbaugh admitted to having no conversation about Kauffman's mental status with any physician or making any review of the medical records, or doing any research on the federal insanity defense. The reason Zorbaugh gave for advising Kauffman to plead guilty and not tender an ...

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