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Habeas Corpus — ineffective assistance

United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit


Habeas Corpus — ineffective assistance

Where the defendant claimed he was at a nightclub at the time of the murder, but his attorney did not raise an alibi defense, after only interviewing one alibi witness, the state court unreasonably held that the defendant received effective representation.

“Petitioner Torray Stitts, who was convicted of murder in Indiana state court and sentenced to sixty years’ imprisonment, appeals from the district court’s denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Stitts asserts that his trial counsel was ineffective under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), because before deciding not to present an alibi defense, he only interviewed one alibi witness, Stitts’s father, while unreasonably failing to investigate whether there might be any more. Without explicitly determining whether trial counsel in fact limited his alibi investigation to a single interview, the state court found that such a limited investigation would be sufficient under Strickland. We agree with Stitts that this was an unreasonable application of Strickland. Given that Stitts’s alibi was that he was at a nightclub, where there could be any number of potential alibi witnesses, the failure to explore that possibility is unreasonable. We also find that the state court unreasonably applied Strickland when it found no prejudice, because the prosecution’s case rested entirely on the shaky testimony of two witnesses which could have been neutralized by alibi witness testimony.”

Reversed and Remanded.

12-2255 Stitts v. Wilson

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, McKinney, J., Williams, J.

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