April 16, 2014 Articles

Petitioning the Court for a Competent Expert

Failure to do so may constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.

By Adam J. Sheppard

In February 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an attorney in a capital-murder case was ineffective in failing to petition the trial court for sufficient funds to hire a competent expert to rebut the state’s forensic evidence. The case is Hinton v. Alabama (No. 13-6440, Feb. 24, 2014) (per curiam). The defendant was charged with shooting two restaurant managers to death in the course of two separate robberies. Later that month, a third restaurant manager was shot at, but survived, during another similar robbery. That restaurant manager later identified the defendant as the shooter. Officers recovered a .38 caliber from the defendant’s residence. After analyzing the six bullets fired during the three crimes and test-firing the revolver, examiners at the state’s Department of Forensic Sciences concluded that the six bullets had all been fired from the same gun: the revolver found at the defendant’s residence. The state’s strategy in the murder cases was to persuade the jury that the similarity between all three crimes, the eyewitness testimony of the restaurant manger who survived, and the forensic analysis of the bullets meant that only the defendant could have committed the murders.

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