American Bar Association
Media Alerts
Media Alerts - Grant v. Lockett--Third Circuit
Decrease font size
Increase font size
March 8, 2013
  Grant v. Lockett--Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Finds State Court's Application of Strickland Factors to be Unreasonable

Area of Law: Habeas Corpus, 6th Amendment Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel

Issue(s) Presented: Whether the state court's applications of the Strickland factors were unreasonable in determining ineffective assistance of counsel?

Brief Summary:
Grant was convicted of murder based on one Commonwealth witness who alleged Grant was the one who had committed the shootings. The witness' criminal record revealed that he had recently been in prison, and was currently on parole, which would have provided an incentive for him to testify favorably to the government. However, this information was never discovered by Grant's attorney, and thus not used to impeach the witness. The Third Circuit found that the District Court improperly denied Grant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim by improperly applying the Strickland factors. The Third Circuit further found that application of the Strickland factors revealed that the information regarding Moore's criminal history could have impacted the case based on the fact that he was the only eyewitness claiming Moore had committed the murder. Thus, the case was remanded to the District Court for conditional grant of habeas corpus.

Extended Summary:
Grant was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him of first degree murder. He was convicted of the murder of two individuals outside a bar in Pittsburgh based on one Commonwealth witness, Moore, who identified Grant as the killer. Moore had an extensive criminal background that was not made known to the jury. Furthermore, his testimony did not directly link Grant to the crime. Other witnesses testified that the shooter was not Grant. After exhausting all state court remedies, Grant filed an appeal in the District Court, claiming prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. The District Court denied both claims. While Third Circuit held that the District Court's denial of prosecutorial misconduct was proper, the Court found that Grant was denied his 6th Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.

First, Grant claims that he was denied a fair trial as a result of the exclusion of Moore's criminal history. The District Court concluded that Grant's counsel could have discovered Moore's criminal history with due diligence. The Third Circuit Court pointed out that Gant himself obtained Moore's criminal history while in custody. Thus, his trial counsel could have easily done the same, and the District Court did not err in denying this claim of a fair trial.

Because Grant's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were already adjudicated on the merits in state court, Grant may obtain federal habeas relief only if the state court decision was: 1) contrary to clearly established federal law, or 2) based on unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington required a defendant to show that: 1) counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as "counsel" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, and 2) the deficient performance actually prejudiced the defense. Ineffectiveness claims must be analyzed in light of all circumstances.

The question the Third Circuit went on to answer is whether the state court's application of the Strickland factors was unreasonable. There is no dispute that the state record supported Grant's claim that Moore was on parole during the period of the shooting. The Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") Court amended the record to reflect this information. Thus, the Superior Court's factual determination simply ignored the evidence of Moore's parole status. To the extent that the District Court relied on this erroneous determination, that was unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the PCRA Court proceeding. Furthermore, the Third Circuit finds counsel's failure to look into Moore's criminal background to be professionally unreasonable, reasoning that a key prosecution witness' criminal background clearly constitutes important impeachment evidence. The Third Circuit found that failure to include this evidence at trial prejudiced the outcome of the case. The fact that Moore was on parole gave him a strong reason to lie and testify in a manner that would help the prosecutor, in hopes of getting favorable treatment. Evidence of Moore's criminal history would have been extremely compelling impeachment evidence that would have significantly undermined his credibility. Had trial counsel discovered and used this information, the outcome of the case could have been much different. Thus, failure to impeach Moore on his criminal history was a serious error made by counsel that prejudiced the defense.

Grant also argued that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and call Mark Gee and Kim Oden, employees of the bar who were present on the night of the shooting. Both of these witnesses made statements that Grant was not the shooter, and gave descriptions of the shooter that they saw. Since the Court determined that counsel was ineffective for not discovering Moore's criminal history, it did not decide whether failure to call these witnesses was ineffective assistance of counsel.

Because of the foregoing reasons, the Third Circuit remanded this matter to the District Court with instructions to conditionally grant the writ of habeas corpus.

The full opinion is available at http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/103804p.pdf

Panel: McKee, Chief Judge, and Sloviter, Vanaskie, Circuit Judges

Argued: December 20, 2012

Date of Issued Opinion: March 7, 2013

Docket Number: 10-3804

Decided: Reversed and remanded with direction to conditionally grant the writ of habeas corpus

Case Alert Author: Alexandra Perry

Attorneys: Roger A. Cox, Esq. (ARGUED), Counsel for Appellant & Leanne K. Shipley, Esq. (ARGUED), Counsel for Appellee

Author of Opinion: McKee, Chief Judge

Circuit: 3rd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Susan DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 03/08/2013 12:16 PM     3rd Circuit  

FuseTalk Enterprise Edition - © 1999-2018 FuseTalk Inc. All rights reserved.

Discussion Board Usage Agreement

Back to Top