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Hinton v. Alabama

Case No. 13-6440 (Sup. Ct., Feb. 24, 2014)

In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984), we held that a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel is violated if his trial attorney’s performance falls below an objective standard of reasonableness and if there is a reasonable probability that the result of the trial would have been different absent the deficient act or omission. Id., at 687–688, 694. Anthony Ray Hinton, an inmate on Alabama’s death row, asks us to decide whether the Alabama courts correctly applied Strickland to his case. We conclude that they did not and hold that Hinton’s trial attorney rendered constitutionally deficient performance. We vacate the lower court’s judgment and remand the case for reconsideration of whether the attorney’s deficient performance was prejudicial.


In February 1985, a restaurant manager in Birmingham was shot to death in the course of an after-hours robbery of his restaurant. A second manager was murdered during a very similar robbery of another restaurant in July. Then, later in July, a restaurant manager named Smotherman survived another similar robbery-shooting.During each crime, the robber fired two .38 caliber bullets; all six bullets were recovered by police investigators. Smotherman described his assailant to the police, and when the police showed him a photographic array, he picked out Hinton’s picture.

The police arrested Hinton and recovered from his house a .38 caliber revolver belonging to his mother, who shared the house with him. After analyzing the six bullets firedduring 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 Hinton’s house. Hinton was charged with two counts of capital murder forthe killings during the first two robberies. He was not charged in connection with the third robbery (that is, the Smotherman robbery).


Judge(s): Per curiam
Jurisdiction: U.S. Supreme Court
Related Categories: Criminal Justice
Supreme Court Judge(s)
Samuel Alito
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

Amicus Lawyer(s) Amicus Law Firm(s)
Jeffrey Green Sidley Austin LLP

Petitioner Lawyer(s) Petitioner Law Firm(s)
Bryan Stevenson Equal Justice Initiative

Respondent Lawyer(s) Respondent Law Firm(s)
Andrew Brasher Office of the Alabama Attorney General



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hinton revolver. yates refused to cooperate. attempt to determine whether a bullet recovered from a would have revealed to him that he could receive reim- allotted by the court was incompetent and unqualified. i’ll have to see if i can grant additional experts, but i could possibly produce.” id., at *30 (internal quota- contact him was because he wasn’t recommended by ted the two murders. smotherman identified hinton as am granting up to $500.00, which is the statutory which was over a year before hinton was arrested, so per curiam. tory maximum at the time of hinton’s trial. an earlier the lawyer. so now i’m stuck that he’s the only guy i * * * 11cite as: 571 u. s. ____ (2014) circuit court that hinton had not been prejudiced because hinton’s attorney did not take the judge up on his invita- sional norms.’” padilla, supra, at 366 (quoting strickland, shaw’s dissent, the court stated, “we agree with judge bursement not just for $1,000 but for “any expenses rea- payne rather than a more qualified expert because payne firearms and toolmark identification just twice in the this case calls for a straightforward application of our recognizing that hinton’s defense called for an effective formance”). it is true that payne’s testimony would have to whether or not payne was qualified to act as an expert erating evidence resulted in the overturning of criminal ton’s trial attorney rendered constitutionally deficient “i made an effort to get somebody that i thought ing hinton’s [postconviction] petition the trial court did [about] payne. i called a couple of other lawyers in “a. yes, sir, i think it did. stances.” strickland, supra, at 688. under that standard, prejudiced by his lawyer’s deficient performance and is per curiam failure to perform basic research on that point is a quin- 395 (2000) (finding deficient performance where counsel reimbursed for any expenses reasonably incurred in such believed that he was unable to obtain more than $1,000 to testified that they could not conclude that any of the six the court of criminal appeals of alabama is vacated, and in strickland v. washington, 466 u. s. 668 (1984), we scope at the state forensic laboratory and had asked for ity of the three crimes and forensic analysis of the bullets matched either to one another or to the hinton revolver. “‘i ask you to reject [payne’s] testimony and you have ton was charged with two counts of capital murder for per curiam the state’s expert, yates, to show him how he had deter- rebuttal of the state’s expert witnesses, hinton’s attorney “a. one.” tr. 1667. saying that, with knowledge that sufficient funds were attorney also recognized that payne was not a good expert, attorney: ticular bullet had been fired from that gun. he also testi- graduated in 1933 (more than half a century before the “q. would you characterize it that you did everything tained that he was innocent and that smotherman had he felt he was “stuck” with payne because he could not would be impossible to say with certainty whether a par- petition for a writ of certiorari. *64 (cobb, j., dissenting) (quoting tr. 1733–1734). and the hinton revolver, hinton must also have commit- expert who would have instilled in the jury a reasonable the same gun: the revolver found at hinton’s house. hin- 690. we do not today launch federal courts into examina- fied that the bullets from the three crime scenes did not from a given weapon. see generally national research that option because you are the judges of the facts and omission. id., at 687–688, 694. anthony ray hinton, an the court of criminal appeals held, and the state the attorney failed to do so because he was himself per curiam claim, the performance inquiry must be whether counsel’s to be testifying in the first place.’” id., at *4 (quoting “q. mr. payne, do you have some problem with your counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceed- for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the pro- ney’s fees, which explains why the judge believed that worked for many years as firearms and toolmark examin- conclude that the recovered bullet was or was not fired tor said: hearing, and one of hinton’s experts testified that, pursu- council, strengthening forensic science in the united 1125605, *31 (“[e]ven assuming that counsel’s apparent the prosecutor’s closing argument highlighted the fact a the supreme court of alabama reversed and remanded. tion marks omitted). case, we remand the case for reconsideration of whether under strickland. accepted his invitation to file a motion for additional would be useable. and i’ll have to tell you what i did find a better expert willing to work for $1,000 and he enough. the selection of an expert witness is a paradig- funds were necessary.’” 2006 wl 1125605, *28. counsel we find in this case does not consist of the hiring performance. we vacate the lower court’s judgment and app. 1993) (quoting ala. code §15–12–21(d) (1984)), aff ’d to employ an expert that he himself deemed inadequate. in his state postconviction petition, hinton contended entitled to a new trial. “q. and this case, did it come down to an unwilling- expert: that the bullets used in the crimes could not more than the average man in the street. . . . an expert 2 hinton v. alabama statutory funding limit had been lifted, then hinton was ble options are virtually unchallengeable; and strategic volved a shotgun rather than a handgun. payne also new trial. then-judge shaw (who is now a justice of the per curiam the alabama courts correctly applied strickland to his chief of the firearms and toolmark unit at the fbi’s head- we wish to be clear that the inadequate assistance of hinton revolver, and effectively rebutting that case re- based not on any strategic choice but on a mistaken belief and available defense strategy requires consultation with the killings during the first two robberies. he was not additional funds to hire an expert where that failure was b no more than $1,000, hinton’s attorney went looking for that we go beyond that then i may check to see if we rendered all the more inexplicable by the trial court’s an attorney who meets at least a minimal standard of trial) with a degree in civil engineering, whereas the constituted deficient performance . . . , the appellant has maintained that all six bullets had indeed been fired from tive testimony, hinton produced three new experts on on petition for writ of certiorari to the (citing garrett & neufeld, invalid forensic science testi- determine whether counsel’s representation ‘fell below an express invitation to counsel to seek more funds if such there is no comparison. one man just doesn’t have it that his trial attorney was “‘ineffective to not seek addi- willing to examine the evidence in the case for the $1,000 ble probability that hinton’s attorney would have hired an testified as toolmark experts in several hundred cases. tion occurred between a state attorney and hinton’s trial ing evidence at hinton’s home or in his car. the state’s in february 1985, a restaurant manager in birming- ignorance that the cap on expert expenses had been lifted the trial judge expressly invited hinton’s attorney to file a tive and turn over all of its inculpatory evidence to the assistance was reasonable considering all the circum- the police arrested hinton and recovered from his house 3-to-2 vote. 2006 wl 1125605. the court agreed with the right . . . to have the assistance of counsel for his defence” was no funding cap and requested additional funds— ination beyond that of an average layperson.” 2008 wl quired a competent expert on the defense side. hinton’s a tion by applying the proper inquiry to the facts of this 662 so. 2d 1189 (ala. 1995). that amendment went into the circuit court denied hinton’s postconviction petition advance by the trial court.” ala. code §15–12–21(d). and done hinton a lot of good if the jury had believed it. but i tise he thought he needed and that he did not consider 5cite as: 571 u. s. ____ (2014) to it by law. said all that hinton could have hoped for from a toolmark act, it was a failure of the court to approve what you inal trials posed by the potential for incompetent or fraud- ity is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in dubose v. state, 662 so. 2d 1156, 1177, n. 5 (ala. crim. ulent prosecution forensics experts, noting that “[s]erious hinton’s trial attorney could have corrected the trial per curiam alabama supreme court) also dissented. he would have taken belie[f] that the state was obliged to take the initia- could not have been prejudiced by his attorney’s use of “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the how much i can grant, but i can grant up to $500.00 477 u. s. 365, 385 (1986) (finding deficient performance the jury convicted hinton and recommended by a 10- sional judgments support the limitations on investigation. to counsel is violated if his trial attorney’s performance court of criminal appeals of alabama dence at the crime scenes that could be used to identify payne. payne admitted that he’d testified as an expert on able to pay? that gun. the theory is that minor differences even be- judge accepted that recommendation and imposed a death effect on june 13, 1984, dubose, supra, at 1177, n. 5, it was unreasonable for hinton’s lawyer to fail to seek made “after thorough investigation of [the] law and facts,” statute to obtain any more funding for the purpose of all six bullets were recovered by police investigators. smotherman robbery through eyewitness testimony and revolver.” 2008 wl 4603723, *2 (oct. 17, 2008). u. s. 356, 366 (2010) (quoting strickland, supra, at 688, defense”). murder charges. see smelley v. state, 564 so. 2d 74, 88 witness”). the appellate court affirmed the circuit court’s reasonably incurred.” at an evidentiary hearing held on the six bullets and the revolver were the only physical didn’t you? version of the statute had limited state reimbursement of smotherman robbery). states: a path forward 150–155 (2009). smotherman survived another similar robbery-shooting. on cross-examination, the prosecutor badly discredited to proceed in forma pauperis are granted, the judgment of during each crime, the robber fired two .38 caliber bullets; means of knowledge in a specialized art or science is to “‘i don’t know as to what my limitations are as for arms and toolmark identification, and that payne had during a very similar robbery of another restaurant in 6 hinton v. alabama per curiam ineffective-assistance-of-counsel precedents, beginning with per curiam barred access to such records”); kimmelman v. morrison, experts that might have been hired. the only inadequate ers at the dallas county crime laboratory and had each per curiam all three experts examined the physical evidence and picked out hinton’s picture. in fact, $500 per case ($1,000 total) was not the statu- bullets had been fired from the hinton revolver. the state it is so ordered. in other words, counsel has a duty to make reasonable make even the cursory investigation of the state statute hinton’s attorney’s deficient performance was prejudicial 694). tains a competent expert to counter the testimony of the pert, no reasonable criminal defense lawyer would seek some degree better than that found in the average juror or supreme court was thus focused on payne’s own qualifi- not shown that he was prejudiced by that deficient per- per curiam forensic evidence about the bullets fired at smotherman “q. you did an awful lot of work to try and find what been fired from the hinton revolver. according to the competence. id., at 685–687. “under strickland, we first prosecution experts, of course, can sometimes make mis- month out, year in and year out, and is recognized and two other witnesses provided testimony that tended to statement: having established deficient performance, hinton must the outcome.” id., at 694. “when a defendant challenges a these two cases for this. so if you need additional ex- could get under alabama law constituted deficient perfor- (ala. crim. app., apr. 28, 2006) (cobb, j., dissenting) at 690–691. hinton’s attorney knew that he needed more “a. yes, sir, i did. choices made after less than complete investigation are have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt.” id., at 695. arrested provided for state reimbursement of “any expenses necessary. yet the attorney did not seek further funding. assistance of counsel here was the inexcusable mistake of across the state as an expert.’” 2006 wl 1125605, experts had said: the bullets could not be affirmatively indeed, this failure to seek additional, sufficient funds is mance. under strickland, “strategic choices made after sonably incurred.” an attorney’s ignorance of a point of doubt as to hinton’s guilt had the attorney known that the (quoting tr. 10). the hinton revolver. unaware that alabama law no longer imposed a specific right now and i’m granting up to $500.00 in each of at trial, the state’s strategy was to link hinton to the to-3 vote, with two justices recused. hinton then filed this misidentified him. in support of that defense, hinton lation but because they incorrectly thought that state law microscopic markings (toolmarks) on the recovered bullet quarters. the other two postconviction experts had ham was shot to death in the course of an after-hours rob- limit and instead allowed reimbursement for “any expenses ant to the ethics code of his trade organization, the associ- ceeding would have been different. a reasonable probabil- ruling that payne was qualified under the applicable available to have a qualified firearms and toolmarks ex- qualified firearms and toolmarks expert’ and that in deny- “a. why, yes. no. 13–6440 decided february 24, 2014 recognized that the sixth amendment’s guarantee that charged in connection with the third robbery (that is, the objective standard of reasonableness.’ then we ask per curiam cover expert fees. these two men there is no match between them. evidence. besides those items, the police found no evi- convictions concluded that invalid forensic testimony was such a case. as hinton’s trial attorney recognized, case turned on whether its expert witnesses could con- also “show that there is a reasonable probability that, but 1cite as: 571 u. s. ____ (2014) where counsel failed to conduct pretrial discovery and that failure “was not based on ‘strategy,’ but on counsel’s mis- to show that he had been prejudiced by payne’s ineffec- iners at the state’s department of forensic sciences named john dillon, had worked on toolmark identification in each case [that is, for each of the two murder does not, taken alone, demonstrate that hinton is guilty. 2008 wl 4603723. after quoting at length from judge community: ‘the proper measure of attorney performance remanded the case to the circuit court to make a finding as takes. indeed, we have recognized the threat to fair crim- witness under the alabama evidentiary standard in place state’s experts had years of training and experience in the makes particular investigations unnecessary.” 466 u. s., ness of experts to work for the price that you were presented witnesses who testified in support of his alibi per curiam per curiam conclusion that the six bullets had been fired from the witness, by definition, is any person whose opportunity or ation of firearm and tool mark examiners, he had asked mony, he made an extensive search for a well-regarded standard. 2013 wl 598122 (ala. crim. app., feb. 15, diced by that failure, meaning that he was entitled to a tion to file a request for more funding. cations, rather than on whether a better expert—one who charges, which were tried together] as far as i know hinton’s postconviction petition, the following conversa- 1989) (summarizing the evidence on each side of the case). “a. yes, sir, i think so. during the three crimes and test-firing the revolver, exam- 1977) (“an ‘expert witness’ is one who can enlighten a jury field of firearms and toolmark examination. the prosecu- defense instead fails to understand the resources available ported the inference that hinton was innocent. id., at *31. the cross-examination with this colloquy: an expert witness. according to his postconviction testi- filed a motion for funding to hire an expert witness of his that state law made available to him—that caused counsel is “virtually unchallengeable.” strickland, 466 u. s., at ton to the two murders were forensic comparisons of the the core of the prosecution’s case was the state experts’ 7cite as: 571 u. s. ____ (2014) expert, but found only one person who was willing to take that payne’s expertise was in military ordnance, not fire- could have been hired had the attorney learned that there deficiencies have been found in the forensic evidence used shaw that ‘the dispositive issue is whether payne was a sentence. july. then, later in july, a restaurant manager named crime scene was fired from a particular gun by comparing 5517591, *5 (ala. crim. app., dec. 19, 2008); see also that he was at work at a warehouse at the time of the can, but this one’s granted.’” 2006 wl 1125605, *59 prosecution’s expert witnesses; it is maximized when the have had “knowledge of firearms and toolmarks exam- 8 hinton v. alabama alabama supreme court) dissented. in her view, hinton’s the case is remanded for further proceedings not incon- the jury did not believe payne. and if there is a reasona- timony did not depart from what hinton’s postconviction thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausi- ered extensive records [that could be used for death penalty remains simply reasonableness under prevailing profes- whether ‘there is a reasonable probability that, but for help from one of the state experts. the prosecutor ended on toolmark evidence. he stated that “[i]t goes without strickland v. washington, 466 u. s. 668. strickland contends in its brief in opposition to certiorari, that hinton town . . . to ask if they knew of anybody. one of them at the time of the trial, which required only that payne investigations or to make a reasonable decision that give credence to, and i submit to you that as between payne’s allegedly poor performance because payne’s tes- sarily linked to the practice and expectations of the legal on the ground that hinton had not been prejudiced by bullets recovered from those crime scenes to the hinton “a. well, putting it a little differently, yes, sir, it was mitigation purposes], not because of any strategic calcu- mony and wrongful convictions, 95 va. l. rev. 1, 14 ii entails that defendants are entitled to be represented by defense to be approved in advance by the trial court.’” see own. in response, the trial judge granted $1,000 with this in effect beginning more than a year before hinton was funds to hire a better expert and hinton had been preju- and the other does it day in and day out, month in and hiring qualified experts.” reporter’s official tr. 206– held that a criminal defendant’s sixth amendment right reasonable precisely to the extent that reasonable profes- providing for defense funding for indigent defendants that the alabama court of criminal appeals affirmed by a because no court has yet evaluated the prejudice ques- “q. so your failure to get an expert that you would to the markings on a bullet known to have been fired from there is a reasonable probability that the result of the trial preceding eight years and that one of the two cases in- hinton was entitled to up to $500 for each of the two that the state presented testimony from two experi- judge’s mistaken belief that a $1,000 limit applied and the trial attorney’s failure to request additional funding concluded that the six bullets had all been fired from then-judge cobb (who later became chief justice of the per curiam “q. how many eyes do you have? conceded that he had had difficulty operating the micro- the house with him. after analyzing the six bullets fired the case for the pay he could offer: andrew payne. hin- attorney had been ineffective in failing to seek additional 207 (emphasis added). (2009)). this threat is minimized when the defense re- that you knew to do? whose testimony, mr. yates’ or mr. payne’s, you will “failed to conduct an investigation that would have uncov- the petition for certiorari and hinton’s motion for leave matic example of the type of “strategic choic[e]” that, when as discussed above, that belief was wrong: alabama law and then to persuade the jury that, in light of the similar- expenses to one half of the $1,000 statutory cap on attor- inmate on alabama’s death row, asks us to decide whether that available funding was capped at $1,000. vision? tional funds when it became obvious that the individual experts or introduction of expert evidence.” harrington v. at least with respect to toolmark evidence. nonetheless, funding to present an effective defense, yet he failed to alabama supreme court, “the only evidence linking hin- as he told the trial judge during a pretrial hearing: because he mistakenly believed that he had received all he at the federal bureau of investigation’s forensics labora- supreme court of the united states to-2 vote that he be sentenced to death. the trial on bullets that are unique enough for an examiner to charles v. state, 350 so. 2d 730, 733 (ala. crim. app. a .38 caliber revolver belonging to his mother, who shared tessential example of unreasonable performance under sistent with this opinion. richter, 562 u. s. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 16). this anthony ray hinton v. alabama amended to provide: “‘counsel shall also be entitled to be supra, at 688). “in any case presenting an ineffectiveness out and hire an unqualified firearms witness.” id., at *73. 12 hinton v. alabama of the hinton revolver had been corroded away so that it in order to replace an expert he knew to be inadequate perts i would go ahead and file on a separate form and 10 hinton v. alabama match one another. the state’s two experts, by contrast, law—the unreasonable failure to understand the resources did not submit rebuttal evidence during the postconviction mined that the recovered bullets had been fired from the would have made a more compelling case for hinton. probability that, absent the errors, the factfinder would would have been different absent the deficient act or toolmark evidence. one of the three, a forensic consultant at trial, payne testified that the toolmarks in the barrel believed would have been sufficient funds? payne’s testimony to be effective.” 2006 wl 1125605, *27. 13cite as: 571 u. s. ____ (2014) maximum as far as i know on this and if it’s necessary operating under the mistaken belief that he could pay when the police showed him a photographic array, he bery of his restaurant. a second manager was murdered case. we conclude that they did not and hold that hin- the perpetrator (such as fingerprints) and no incriminat- law that is fundamental to his case combined with his remand the case for reconsideration of whether the attor- falls below an objective standard of reasonableness and if you believed to be a qualified expert in this case, ton’s attorney “testified that payne did not have the exper- “criminal cases will arise where the only reasonable 2013). the alabama supreme court denied review by a 4- 2006 wl 1125605, *70, *72 (shaw, j., dissenting)). the 4 hinton v. alabama melendez-diaz v. massachusetts, 557 u. s. 305, 319 (2009) request for further funds if he felt that more funding was funds. the man who robbed his restaurant and tried to kill him, c smotherman robbery. see 548 so. 2d 562, 568–569 (ala. ney’s deficient performance was prejudicial. on remand, the circuit court held that payne was in- contributed to the convictions in 60% of the cases.” tween guns of the same model will leave discernible traces of an expert who, though qualified, was not qualified 3cite as: 571 u. s. ____ (2014) strickland. see, e.g., williams v. taylor, 529 u. s. 362, knew him; one of them knew him. the reason i didn’t “firearms and toolmark” evidence. toolmark examiners have been let’s say a hundred percent satisfied with conviction, the question is whether there is a reasonable the category of forensic evidence at issue in this case is in criminal trials. . . . one study of cases in which exon- link hinton to the smotherman robbery. hinton main- payne’s testimony, if believed by the jury, strongly sup- ing would have been different.’” padilla v. kentucky, 559 deed qualified to testify as a firearms and toolmark expert tory and, from 1988 until he retired in 1994, had served as 9cite as: 571 u. s. ____ (2014) “the first prong—constitutional deficiency—is neces- a failure—it was my failure, my inability under the per curiam b not directly rule on ‘the issue whether payne was qualified enced expert witnesses that tended to inculpate hinton (ala. crim. app. 1990). but the relevant statute had been vince the jury that the six recovered bullets had indeed smotherman described his assailant to the police, and have been fired from the hinton revolver. see 2006 wl 14 hinton v. alabama tion of the relative qualifications of experts hired and reasonably incurred in such defense to be approved in was not a failure on your part to go out and do some

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