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Exoneration

This is what I wrote about the Supreme Court's decision a year ago in Hinton v. Alabama.

There was one other SCOTUS decision that came beneath the radar, the per curiam opinion in Hinton v. AlabamaAs might be expected from a PC opinion - the case wasn't even argued -- there's no big question of law to be resolved here, but it's an interesting read nonetheless.  Hinton was on trial for capital murder, and one of the key issues was ballistics evidence:  according to the police, the bullets they recovered from the scene of the robbery/murders Hinton was charged with matched the gun found in a search of Hinton's house.  There was no other evidence linking Hinton to the crime.

The issue in the case was ineffective assistance of counsel:  the defense attorney thought there was a $500 cap for experts in death penalty cases in Alabama.   The judge gave him $1,000, because there were two cases, and invited the defense to file a motion asking for more.  The attorney didn't do that,   and unknown to both him and the judge, the cap had been eliminated the year before, and the expenses could be reimbursed if they were "reasonably incurred" and approved in advance by the trial judge.

So what was the damage?  Believing he was limited to $1,000, the only "expert" the lawyer could find willing to work at that price was Andrew Payne.  The attorney had some trepidation about it; he'd found only one other lawyer who knew the Payne, and the lawyer didn't recommend him.

The trepidation was warranted:  on cross-examination, the prosecutor got Payne to acknowledge that he'd only testified twice in the past eight years, with one of the cases involving a shotgun, not a handgun as had been used in the robberies Hinton was charged with.  Payne admitted that he'd had difficulty operating the microscope at the forensic laboratory, to the point where he'd had to ask for help from one of the state's experts.  The coup de grace was administered by the closing colloquy:

Q. Mr. Payne, do you have some problem with your vision?

A. Why, yes.

Q. How many eyes do you have?

A. One.

The Court found that the expert was "badly discredited" -- ya think? -- and that if the lawyer had known of the raised cap, he could've gotten a better one. 

The case was sent back for retrial.  Yesterday, we have this:

An Alabama inmate who spent nearly 30 years on death row will go free Friday after prosecutors told a judge there is not enough evidence to link him to the 1985 murders he was convicted of committing.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Laura Petro on Thursday dismissed the case against Anthony Ray Hinton. The district attorney's office in a Wednesday court filing said that forensic experts couldn't determine if six crime scene bullets -- which were the crux of the evidence against Hinton -- came from a gun investigators took from his home.

Something to keep in mind the next time someone starts whining about how it takes so long to execute people.

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