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What it does 

Reddy v. Kelly is a Sixth Circuit case expanding the test for ineffective assistance of counsel to include unreasonable failure to submit relevant scientific information that could help a client win their case.

In this case, the Court ruled that a defendant with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has a valid claim for ineffective assistance of counsel in a homicide case if defendant had been diagnosed prior to the trial and counsel failed to submit the report of the diagnosis into evidence when it could have determined the outcome of the case.   

The facts 

Joseph Reddy was convicted of aggravated murder of his mother, Gloria, in Ohio state court. Reddy testified to having suffered years of abuse from Gloria, and on December 24, 2007, Gloria, armed with a knife, attempted to throw Reddy out of her home. Reddy refused to leave; in the ensuing fight, Reddy choked Gloria to death. 

At Reddy’s trial, his counsel, Harvey Bruner, attempted to mitigate the charge from aggravated murder to voluntary manslaughter. Bruner had Reddy tested by a psychologist who authored a report attesting that Reddy was within the clinically significant range for PTSD. Bruner did not enter the report into evidence, and he only provided the court with the report after the verdict was announced and before sentencing. Reddy was found guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced 20 years to life. 

Reddy filed numerous appeals, and after the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio dismissed his petition for post-conviction relief, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit took the case.

Decision Points 

The Court held that:

  • Failing to offer evidence of PTSD, which was vital to Reddy’s defense and which counsel had before the trial, was not reasonable judgment;
  • Counsel’s failure to submit into evidence the report attesting to Reddy’s PTSD most likely prejudiced his case, and had counsel acted differently the result of the proceeding would have been different; and
  • The psychiatric report would have been relevant to mitigating Reddy’s charge from aggravated murder to voluntary manslaughter. The Court recognized that evidence of PTSD could have shown that Reddy did not have the requisite mens rea for aggravated murder and that he likely “acted in sudden passion or fit of rage brought on by provocation.”
Relevant Science 

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder that develops in reaction to having experienced shocking, frightening, or dangerous events. PTSD symptoms include feeling “on-edge”, facing extreme fear, and being prone to angry outbursts. Individuals living with PTSD can have trouble with trust and communication, which may affect the way they interact with others. Healthcare professionals with experience in assisting people with mental illness diagnose PTSD in adults by finding out whether the patient has experienced a series of symptoms.

PTSD may also affect impulse control. People living with PTSD may experience emotion dysregulation, which involves the inabilities to understand, control, form adaptive strategies toward, and accept emotional distress. This can lead to impulsive behaviors following periods of high emotional arousal.

Where & When 

The decision was filed on September 28, 2016 by Judge Helene N. White of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Relevant Experts 

Sara Sun Beale, JD is the Charles L.B. Lowndes Professor of Law at the Duke Law School.


When a state prisoner’s claim is decided on the merits in state court, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 bars re-litigation of the same claim in federal courts unless the state court applied an unreasonable application of federal law, or if the decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented during the proceedings. 

The Sixth Circuit’s test for ineffective assistance of counsel requires that the petitioner show that:

  • The counsel’s performance was deficient; and
  • The counsel’s deficiency prejudiced the defense to the degree that the outcome of the case likely would have been different had counsel not been deficient.

The Court has reversed the decision of the District Court; conditionally granted Reddy’s petition for habeas relief; and remanded Reddy’s case to the District Court, which must order Reddy’s release from custody unless the state of Ohio grants Reddy a new trial within 180 from the Court’s decision date.

Primary Author 
Jonathan Ng, JD Candidate
Bryan McMahon
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