Trials & Litigation

Actual innocence is needed for claim of sentencing malpractice, Washington Supreme Court says

Corrected: The Washington Supreme Court has upheld dismissal of a legal malpractice suit filed by a man who won resentencing in his rape case but didn’t get a new sentence until 12 years afterward.

The state supreme court ruled (PDF) on Thursday that actual innocence is needed to establish criminal malpractice and no exception applies for malpractice in sentencing, the Legal Profession Blog reports.

The inmate, Christopher Piris, said the delay in sentencing caused him to spend 13 more months in prison than authorized by the corrected sentence. He was resentenced after pleading guilty to rape of a child for conduct that occurred when he was between the ages of 11 and 13. The victim was between 9 and 11.

Piris claimed he never learned about the reversal of his 159-month sentence, while the lawyer who represented him on appeal testified he would have informed Piris of the decision and that he was closing his file. The lawyer also testified he informed public defenders of the need to schedule a new sentencing hearing.

Piris says he didn’t learn of the favorable ruling until he was brought before a judge for an alleged violation of his supervised release terms. He sued both his trial and appellate lawyers.

The case is Piris v. Kitching.


Updated July 11 to correctly state that it was the Washington Supreme Court who upheld the dismissal of Christopher Piris’ legal malpractice suit.

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