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Trial court needs to take another look at alibi defense

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a man’s petition for habeas corpus and ordered the District Court to take another look at the defense counsel’s alibi defense investigation.

Torray Stitts was convicted of the murder of Kevin Hartson in Kokomo and sentenced to 60 years in prison. The state’s case was based on the testimony of two witnesses whose reliability was attacked at trial. Stitts’ direct appeal failed as did his post-conviction relief petition. He claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately investigate his alibi defense for potential presentment at trial.

His attorney interviewed Stitts’ father, who claimed his son was at the American Legion Post with him and that other people saw Stitts there. Stitts’ attorney decided there weren’t any quality witnesses to testify on Stitts’ behalf and did not interview anyone else.

In Torray Stitts v. Bill Wilson, superintendent, Indiana State Prison, 12-2255, the 7th Circuit had to decide whether Stitts’ counsel’s alibi investigation violated Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984), not the decision to not present an alibi defense at trial. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of Stitts’ petition for post-conviction relief, finding that the attorney did investigate Stitts’ alibi defense and the investigation did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness nor was he prejudiced.

The Indiana Supreme Court declined to take the case. Judge Larry J. McKinney in the Southern District of Indiana denied Stitts’ petition for habeas corpus.

“When a defendant’s alibi is that he was at a nightclub at the time of the shooting, where there are presumably many people, we cannot fathom a reason consistent with Supreme Court precedent that would justify a trial counsel’s decision to interview only a single alibi witness without exploring whether there might be others at the venue who could provide credible alibi testimony,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote. “There is simply no evidence in the record to suggest that exploring the possibility of other alibi witnesses ‘would have been fruitless’ under these circumstances.”

The 7th Circuit remanded the case to the District Court to determine whether the trial counsel performed no further alibi investigation. If the attorney did not, then the District Court should grant the habeas petition. If the court finds the attorney did more, then the court must determine de novo whether that investigation was reasonable under Strickland.

 

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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