June 16, 2023 By Wallin & Klarich

In Waidla v. Davis, the defendant Tauno Waidla was sentenced to the death penalty for first-degree murder. His lawyer appealed his conviction by filing a petition for habeas corpus, but it was turned down by all of the state courts. However, Waidla refused to give up hope. He then had his lawyer file a writ to the federal courts asking that his death sentence be reversed. Finally, his death sentence was set aside by the federal courts when they reached the conclusion that Waidla’s lawyer had not represented him effectively. Wallin and Klarich has been helping people fight their criminal cases for over 40 years, including filing appeals and writs after a person has been convicted of a serious crime and sentenced to prison. Call us at (877) 466-5245 today to see how we can assist you. Never give up hope.


At age 18, Walda escaped from the Soviet Army and sought asylum in the United States. While here, Waidla killed a woman after a deal went south. During his interrogation, Waidla confessed to attacking the woman. 

Unfortunately, Waidla’s counsel did not pursue a mental state defense because prior mental health evaluations had found that Waidla had no psychiatric condition. Therefore, Waidla’s counsel did not present any evidence of Waidla’s mental health issues stemming from his time in the Soviet Army at trial. Additionally, Waidla’s counsel neglected to mention Waidla’s good behavior while he was incarcerated prior to trial. Feeling as if he had no other option, Waidla then testified at trial that he was being coerced into his confession by LAPD detectives. 

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel 

Waidla’s counsel did not investigate any mitigating evidence aside from that presented during the guilt phase. For example, he did not seek out any evidence related to Waidla’s positive adjustment to incarceration, nor did he attempt to contact Waidla’s family and friends from Estonia to obtain background or good character mitigation evidence. Meanwhile, the prosecution argued that the horrific nature of Waidla’s crime warranted the death penalty. As a result, the jury found Waidla guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. 

State Appeal 

Waidla appealed his conviction to the California Supreme Court. In his petition for habeas corpus, he asserted ineffective assistance of counsel at the guilt and penalty phases, prosecutorial misconduct, and failure to suppress his confession as required by the 5th Amendment. Regarding his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Waidla asserted three categories of mitigation evidence that counsel should have presented: (1) evidence of his psychosocial history and character, (2) evidence of abuse faced by Estonians in the Soviet Army, and (3) evidence that he had behaved well in custody prior to trial. However, the California Supreme Court affirmed his conviction. 

Federal Appeal 

Waidla then brought his appeal to federal court. On federal habeas review, the court granted relief on Waidla’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and rejected his remaining claims. The court cited the case of Strickland v. Washington, which set out the standard for ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Under Strickland, the defendant must show that his counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and had counsel provided competent representation, there is a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have voted differently. 

Here, had the three categories of evidence that counsel should have discovered been presented to the jury, there is a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have voted against the death penalty. Thus, Waidla was entitled to a new sentencing hearing based on the ineffective assistance of counsel. 

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today 

If you or your loved one has been convicted of a serious crime and you believe that the lawyer who represented you or your loved one did not do a good job or was otherwise “ineffective,” contact Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible to see how we can help. At Wallin & Klarich, we stay up to date with the most recent legal developments so that we can better assist you. With 40+ years of experience, our attorneys have helped many clients win their cases or successfully reduce their prison sentences, and we have the skills and resources to help you or your loved one in your time of need.  

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find an available and convenient attorney near you. 

Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney. We will be there when you call. 

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