Defendant Convicted of Murder Wins Appeal for Evidentiary Hearing
In July of 2007, defendant James Miller was convicted of two counts of murder and one count of robbery following a shooting that occurred outside the Time Out Lounge in Alton, IL. As a result of the conviction, the defendant was sentenced to natural life in prison. In his direct appeal, the defendant alleged that his counsel was ineffective for failing to present testimony of several important witnesses, failed to move for a continuance to depose the witnesses, and failed to impeach state witnesses for inconsistent statements.
In June of 2012, the defendant filed a pro se petition alleging that he was denied the right to effective assistance of counsel alleging actual innocence to the crimes for which he was convicted. As part of his petition, he alleged that one of the witnesses identified the shooter as a “tall dark-skinned man with braids”. This description did not match the defendant’s. The witness indicated that he never spoke to police or anyone else concerning the incident. The witness was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center when he overheard the defendant discussing the shooting with a law clerk and realized that the defendant was convicted of the shootings. The witness approached the defendant and told him that he witnessed the shootings. In an affidavit, the witness swore that the defendant was not the one responsible for the shootings.
In August of 2013, the State filed a motion to dismiss the defendant’s post conviction petition arguing that the defendant’s claim of actual innocence did not allege that his constitutional rights had been violated. The state also claimed that the evidence presented at trial overwhelmingly supported the conviction and the newly discovered evidence was known at the time of his appeal.
The defendant through his attorney filed a response to the motion to dismiss alleging that the evidence he presented was not known to him at the time of the trial. Another witness could not be found at the time of the trial but was subsequently found later. A third witness was not called to testify. The appeals court ruled that the defendant was entitled to an evidentiary hearing based on new evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel.
Ineffective assistance of counsel
Ineffective assistance of counsel refers to a situation in which a criminal defense attorney failed to do their job properly and so were denied their constitutional right to defend themselves against the charges. It can be used on appeal to overturn a conviction or get the case reopened to present more evidence. It is considered a constitutional claim that is raised under the 6th Amendment which guarantees the right to effective counsel for defendants in criminal proceedings.
In the case mentioned above, the defendant alleged that his attorney never deposed key witnesses to the shooting that would have exonerated him as the culprit. The state countered by saying that these witnesses were known to the defendant at the time of the shooting. The defense countered that this was not the case.
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