Griffin v. Harrington

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 08-16-2013
  • Case #: 12-57162
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Trott for the Court; Circuit Judges Lucero and W. Fletcher
  • Full Text Opinion

A defense counsel’s failure to take an action that deprives the defendant of the sole opportunity to make inadmissible the prosecution’s only direct evidence connecting the defendant to the crime does not amount to acceptable tactical error and constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel.

Prentiss Griffin was convicted of first degree murder in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County and was sentenced to 90 years to life. The state’s key witness had previously made statements identifying Griffin as the killer. However, at trial the witness refused to swear an oath of truthfulness and made it aware that he intended to change his story. The witness was instructed to testify without swearing an oath, Griffin’s defense counsel failed to make a timely objection, and the witness’s prior inconsistent statements were used in securing Griffin’s conviction. On direct appeal, Griffin’s sentence was reduced to 80 years to life while the California Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed Griffin’s conviction and denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Griffin was denied review by the California Supreme Court and filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court granted Griffin’s petition and concluded that Griffin received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, that the standard laid out in Strickland v. Washington by the California Court of Appeals was incorrect in interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), and that the California Court of Appeal’s factual findings were unreasonable. The Ninth Circuit held that Griffin’s counsel’s failure to object, which amounted to failing to take an action that permanently deprived Griffin of the sole opportunity Griffin had to make inadmissible the state’s only direct evidence connecting Griffin to the crime, was not an acceptable tactical error. Thus, the California Court of Appeal’s conclusion was objectively unreasonable, and Griffin’s counsel’s actions constituted ineffective representation of counsel allowing for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. AFFIRMED.

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