The Supreme Court ruling in Hinton v. Alabama begins at page 33 of the Orders List.
"Alabama Death Row inmate Anthony Ray Hinton could get new trial after U.S. Supreme Court ruling," is the Associated Press report, via AL.com.
An inmate who has been on Alabama's Death Row for 28 years might get a new trial after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his trial counsel was inadequate.
The court issued an opinion Monday saying that Anthony Ray Hinton had "constitutionally deficient" counsel at his trial. The court cited the defense lawyer's failure to know that funds were available to hire a better ballistics expert to help rebut crucial prosecution evidence. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the state court to determine if Hinton should get a new trial.
The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences concluded that the four bullets fired during the robberies, and another two from a similar robbery-shooting at a Quincy's restaurant in Bessemer, had all been fired from a revolver found at Hinton's home.
Hinton's defense lawyer wrongly thought he had only $1,000 to hire a ballistics expert to try to rebut the prosecution evidence, according the court opinion. Hinton's lawyer hired the only person willing to take the job at that price even though he had concerns about the expert's credentials.
"Hinton's attorney knew that he needed more funding to present an effective defense, yet he failed to make even the cursory investigation of the state statute providing for defense funding for indigent defendants that would have revealed to him that he could receive reimbursement not just for $1,000 but for "any expenses reasonably incurred," the court wrote.
The trial witness testified the tool marks of the revolver had been corroded away so that it was impossible to say whether a particular bullet had been fired from that gun. However, the witness, a civil engineer who admitted he needed help operating the lab microscope, was discredited during the trial by prosecutors because of his lack of credentials.
During his appeal, Hinton's legal team produced three new experts, including one who had worked at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's forensics laboratory, who determined there was no evidence to support the state's claim that bullets matched Hinton's weapon.
The Los Angeles Times posts, "Supreme Court ruling could mean new trial for Alabama death row inmate," by Timothy M. Phelps.
But Monday all nine justices found a double murder conviction so troubling that without hearing oral arguments they rebuked an Alabama appeals court and sent the case back to consider whether Anthony R. Hinton deserved a new trial.
In three restaurant robberies in Birmingham 29 years ago, two restaurant managers were killed and one injured. The injured manager identified Hinton. But Hinton was charged with the two deaths solely on the strength of ballistics evidence indicating that a .38-caliber revolver found at Hinton’s home was the weapon used in all three shootings.
Hinton’s defense lawyer, and even the trial judge, mistakenly believed the state would pay just $1,000 for an expert witness. The lawyer, who was not identified in the opinion, later testified that he knew the only expert he could afford, Andrew Payne, was not very good, but he hired him anyway.
"Lawyer who didn’t know about permissible expert-witness fee was ineffective, SCOTUS says," by Debra Cassens Weiss for ABA Journal.
The Supreme Court said the defense lawyer's failure to request more funding constituted deficient performance. “We do not today launch federal courts into examination of the relative qualifications of experts hired and experts that might have been hired,” the opinion said. “The only inadequate assistance of counsel here was the inexcusable mistake of law—the unreasonable failure to understand the resources that state law made available to him—that caused counsel to employ an expert that he himself deemed inadequate.”
"The One-Eyed Witness," is by Jesse Wegman at the New York Times Taking Note blog.
In post-conviction proceedings, Mr. Hinton claimed that his lawyer’s mistake in thinking he had no choice but to hire Mr. Payne constituted ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. To support this claim he produced three experts who all testified that they could not conclude Mr. Hinton’s gun had fired any of the bullets. The state did not rebut the new evidence, and one of Mr. Hinton’s experts testified that the state’s expert refused to show him how he’d concluded that Mr. Hinton’s gun had been the murder weapon.
The Supreme Court agreed that the lawyer’s failure very possibly altered the outcome of the case. The jury clearly did not believe Mr. Payne, the Court reasoned, but they well may have believed a qualified expert witness, if only Mr. Hinton’s lawyer had known he’d be reimbursed for hiring one. (Mr. Perhacs wasn’t well-compensated, either. He was paid a total of $1600 for defending Mr. Hinton — or what top corporate lawyers now charge for about 75 minutes of work.)
Bryan Stevenson, Mr. Hinton’s attorney since 1999 and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., said that as prosecutors rely increasingly on complex scientific evidence and expert witnesses, the Sixth Amendment’s role in assuring that poor defendants have the ability to mount a proper defense has only grown. “The Sixth Amendment’s requirements are not just formulaic and minimal,” Mr. Stevenson said. “There’s dramatic evidence that he’s been wrongly convicted and no one can credibly assert that a capital defendant can get the assistance he needs for $1000.”