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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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