Criminal Law: Post-Conviction Relief

In 2003, Emanuel Gissendanner was convicted of murdering Snellgrove during the course of a kidnapping and a robbery and of possessing a forged instrument. He was sentenced to death. His convictions and sentence were affirmed on appeal. A certificate of judgment was issued on August 25, 2006. In August 2007, Gissendanner filed a petition for post- conviction relief pursuant to Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure 32. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court issued an order finding that Gissendanner had been denied his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel and it set aside his conviction and sentence. The State appealed. Reversed.
The trial court determined that the State violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to disclose exculpatory information or the entire file of State handwriting expert Steven Drexler. To establish a Brady violation, the petitioner must show: (a) that the prosecution suppressed evidence; (b) that the evidence was favorable to the defendant; and (c) that the evidence was material to the issues at trial. In this case, defense counsel knew that there was writing exemplars and stipulated to their authenticity. The Court declined to find counsel in-effective in this situation.
An attorney’s decision whether to retain witnesses is a matter of trial strategy. The circuit court found fault with defense counsel for failing to hire a pathologist. “A post-conviction petition does not show ineffective assistance merely because it presents a new expert opinion that is different from the theory used at trial.” There is no indication that counsel conducted themselves in any manner but as skilled advocates in the face of compelling evidence of Gissendanner’s guilt. Clearly, this is not a case where counsel failed to investigate and was not prepared for trial.” Reversed. State of Alabama v. Gissendanner