When individuals are faced with attempted murder and murder charges in Philadelphia criminal cases, one of the defenses their criminal defense lawyer may present is the alibi defense. If there is credible alibi evidence, the chances of the defendant being acquitted by the jury may increase.
What happens when a trial lawyer overlooks alibi evidence and the defendant is convicted of a murder? Does the defendant in that situation have any options to appeal his conviction? Yes, he does. This is what happened to a defendant in a 2013 PA case – Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Edward E. STEWART, Appellee, (Dec. 10, 2013).
In this murder case, the defendant’s fiancée called defense counsel and spoke to him about testifying on behalf of the defendant. She was with him on the night of the murder and wanted to testify as his alibi witness. The defense counsel did not meet with her or have an investigator interview her. Defendant’s fiancée was present in the courtroom and ready to testify at the time of trial. However, she was not called to the stand. The defendant was then convicted of the murder and filed a PCRA petition.
At the evidentiary hearing, defense counsel stated that the defendant did not inform him about the fiancée until the day of the trial, which defendant denied. Defense counsel further explained that he did not present defendant’s fiancée at trial because she was not credible.
Related: Pennsylvania PCRA Petition and Request for an Evidentiary Hearing (Part 1)
The PCRA court did not find defense counsel’s testimony at the evidentiary hearing credible because he in fact presented an alibi defense. He allowed his client to testify at trial that he was with his fiancée in her home on the night of the murder. The alibi testimony of the fiancée could have casted doubt on the testimony of the prosecution’s sole eyewitness. Though the alibi witness’ credibility may have been an issue, defense counsel’s explanation might have been reasonable if he at least spoke to her to assess her testimony. The PCRA court found in the defendant’s favor and granted a new criminal trial.
The prosecution appealed the PCRA court’s decision to the Pennsylvania Superior Court which affirmed the PCRA court’s order to grant defendant a new trial.
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