U.S. Supreme Court

Did Lawyers Fail Convicted Murderer? Cert Weighed in Case of Nine Alibi Witnesses

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Nine alibi witnesses say Richard Rosario was in Florida on the day of a Bronx murder, yet federal courts have refused to overturn his conviction.

One appeals judge deemed the performance of Rosario’s lawyers to be “a colossal failure,” the New York Times reports. Rosario was convicted based only on the testimony of two witnesses who picked his picture out of a book of police photos.

Rosario’s first court-appointed lawyer sought and received money for a Florida investigator to check out the alibi defense, but she didn’t follow through, the story says. Her replacement thought the court had denied the funds. Two alibi witnesses testified at trial, and seven more came forward after conviction.

A federal magistrate judge found the trial lawyers were “objectively deficient,” but their performance didn’t require reversal. The judge used a standard that evaluates effectiveness of counsel based on overall lawyer performance rather than isolated error, the Times says. The New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the cert petition (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog) next week. Laywers for Rosario argue the New York standard is contrary to the effectiveness requirements set out in the Supreme Court case Strickland v. Washington.

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