The United States Supreme Court decided Hinton v. Alabama, No. 13-6440 (Per Curiam), on February 24, 2014. This case is a “must read” for all defense attorneys because it highlights the importance of some of the most fundamental requirements of competent representation of criminal defendants. If nothing else, it is a very strong reminder to always remember the basics, including investigating ALL aspects of a case, understanding thoroughly ALL of the relevant statutes, and remaining current with applicable law.
This was a capital case arising from shootings that occurred during a series of robberies. Ballistics evidence was the only physical evidence in the case. The State’s case turned on whether its ballistics expert could convince the jury that six bullets recovered from the crime scenes matched a gun recovered from the defendant’s home. Under the circumstances, it was clear that defense counsel required a highly qualified ballistics expert in order to raise doubt about the only physical evidence in the case.
Not surprisingly, defense counsel required public funds to pay for experts, and such payment was governed by statute. Counsel believed that the relevant statute limited his available funding to a total of $1,000.00 under the circumstances, and sought approval for that amount from the trial court. As to this issue, however, counsel was acting on outdated law. In fact, the applicable statute contained no such limit, but rather provided that counsel could be reimbursed “for any expenses reasonably incurred in such defense to be approved in advance by the trial court.” The trial court was uncertain about the maximum it could allow for defense experts, but invited defense counsel to seek reimbursement beyond the requested $1,000.00. Defense counsel was not aware of the fact that the statute did not limit him to the requested $1,000.00, and did not take the trial court up on its invitation to file subsequent applications seeking additional funding. Continue reading ›