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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. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  2. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  3. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  4. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

  5. No, Ron Drake is not running against incumbent Larry Bucshon. That’s totally wrong; and destructively misleading to say anything like that. All political candidates, including me in the 8th district, are facing voters, not incumbents. You should not firewall away any of voters’ options. We need them all now more than ever. Right? Y’all have for decades given the Ds and Rs free 24/7/365 coverage of taxpayer-supported promotion at the expense of all alternatives. That’s plenty of head-start, money-in-the-pocket advantage for parties and people that don’t need any more free immunities, powers, privileges and money denied all others. Now it’s time to play fair and let voters know that there are, in fact, options. Much, much better, and not-corrupt options. Liberty or Bust! Andy Horning Libertarian for IN08 USA House of Representatives Freedom, Indiana

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