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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit reverses Indiana decision and directs prisoner's release by State of Indiana ...

In Jones v. Basinger (SD Ind., Young), a 48-page opinion, Judge Hamilton writes:

In 2004, petitioner Antonio Jones was convicted in an Indiana state court for his involvement in a horrific robbery that culminated in four murders. At his trial, two police detectives testified in detail about an informant’s double-hearsay statement accusing Jones as the leader of the robbery and murders. That testimony was allowed on the theory that it was offered not to show the truth of the informant’s statement but for the purpose of showing the course of the police investigation that led to Jones’ arrest. A divided Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Jones’ conviction, and the state courts denied relief on post-conviction review. Jones petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that this testimony violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The district court denied the petition without reaching the merits of Jones’ Sixth Amendment claim.

The trial record makes unmistakably clear that the informant’s double-hearsay against Jones was in fact used as substantive evidence to prove Jones’ guilt, in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. The Indiana Court of Appeals’ failure to recognize this fact was an unreasonable failure to apply the Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), to this case. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions to grant the petition. * * *

Perhaps Jones is guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged. From the evidence presented at trial, that is a distinct possibility. “We may not, however, vitiate constitutional guarantees when they have the effect of allowing the guilty to go free.” Davis, 547 U.S. at 833. In this case, the Constitution demands that Jones have an opportunity to confront Parks if his statements to Lewis, as reported to the police detectives, are to be used as evidence against Jones. The Constitution makes no exception for Jones because the prosecution’s star witness was unsavory, because the prosecution’s case was otherwise weak, or because Jones was accused of especially heinous crimes.

We REVERSE and REMAND this matter with instructions to the district court to grant Jones’ habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, directing the State of Indiana to release Jones within 120 days of the issuance of the mandate unless the State elects to retry Jones within that time.

ILB: I had hopes of finding the Court of Appeals opinion, but it was NFP and issued in 2005, before the Court began posting its NFPs online. However, I did find this.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 31, 2011 01:02 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions