Death Row Writ of Habeas Corpus Blames Lack of Forensic Expert Witness

    Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Boyd v. Inch
    Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114360

    Facts

    This case involves a writ of habeas corpus filed by a death row prisoner.  The prisoner petitioner was on death row following a conviction of first-degree murder, sexual battery, and armed kidnapping. He had previously appealed the trial decision to the state’s supreme court, where the decision was upheld. After this, the petitioner filed a petition to a state district court for the writ of habeas corpus, including a claim that his defense counsel had failed to provide sufficient assistance by not retaining a forensic expert witness to support his case. The petitioner claimed that a lack of a forensic expert witness left his counsel unable to rebut the prosecution’s forensic evidence. He asserted that his defense counsel failed to fulfill their duty and, thus, a new trial was needed, citing Strickland v. Washington.

    The Lack of a Forensic Expert Witness

    The court discussed the supreme court’s ruling that the defense counsel was not deficient in not hiring a forensic expert witness. They explained that this was consistent with federal law as there was no requirement to hire forensic experts. The supreme court had also asserted that there was no need for a forensic expert witness because the defense counsel was a former medical examiner and had unique qualifications. The supreme court found that the petitioner could not just claim ineffective counsel under Strickland v. Washington, but must also provide proof that effective counsel would have reasonably changed the case outcome.

    The supreme court had noted that the defense counsel was able to rely on his experience as a former medical examiner. He had carefully cross-examined each of the prosecution’s forensic expert witnesses to identify the shortcomings of their conclusions and repeated those points during the first closing argument of the defense. The supreme court upheld the trial court’s decision that this was sufficient to avoid the presentation of forensic expert witnesses.

    Discussion

    The court, in considering the petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus, stated that the petitioner had the burden to show that the counsel’s decision to not retain a forensic expert was strategic and an improper determination of the facts. To present a successful challenge, the plaintiff also needed to demonstrate how this was an improper application of clearly established federal law. In reviewing the supreme court’s decision, the court agreed that the defense counsel had employed a sound trial strategy. This was supported by the fact that the defense counsel was a former medical examiner and able to effectively cross-examine witnesses.

    Held

    Habeus relief was denied.