Monday, June 27, 2016
Michigan Court Denies Alibi/IAC Claim Because Defense Counsel Rejected Alibi Witness After Contacting Her
I've written before about the key distinction between failing to contact a prospective alibi witness and "failing" to call a prospective alibi witness at trial. While courts have invariably found that the former failure is unreasonable for purposes of a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, courts routinely find that the latter "failure" can be, and frequently is, reasonable. The latest example of this can be found in the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Gaines v. Burt, 2016 WL 3444042 (E.D.Mich. 2016).
In Gaines, Deondre Gaines was convicted of attempted murder and related crimes in connection with the shooting of Patrick Price and Jimahle Donald, which occurred on January 3, 2006 at about 6:20 P.M. After he was convicted, Gaines appealed, claiming, inter alia, that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel based upon his trial counsel failing to produce "his alibi witness, Nicole Riley, who would have testified that [Gaines] was with her on the afternoon of January 3, 2006, and until 8:00 p.m. that day."
In addressing this issue, the court cited to three cases that stand for the proposition that failing to contact alibi witnesses generally constitutes ineffective assistance. Bigelow v. Williams, 367 F.3d 562, 570 (6th Cir. 2004); Blackburn v. Foltz, 828 F.2d 1177, 1183 (6th Cir. 1987); Pillette v. Berghuis, 408 Fed.Appx. 873, 884 (6th Cir. 2010)
According to the court, however, the case before it was fundamentally different from these cases. The key difference was that Gaines's attorney did contact Riley, allowing him to make the strategic decision not to call her as a witness at trial:
[Gaines] states that he informed trial counsel about Ms. Riley, but he also states that counsel spoke with Ms. Riley in his office and then informed [Gaines] that Riley would not make a good witness because she appeared to have been drinking and that her appearance and demeanor would not be helpful to the defense. [Gaines] further alleges that his mother spoke with defense counsel about [Gaines]'s alibi and that counsel told his mother he was uncertain about Ms. Riley's character and did not think she would be a good witness....In light of these allegations, it is obvious that trial counsel investigated [Gaines]'s alibi defense and made a strategic decision not to call Ms. Riley.