Sunday, June 17th, 2012

How Not To Hire An Investigator

Matthews v. United States, No. 10-0611-pr (2d Cir. June 14, 2012) (Kearse, Cabranes, Straub, CJJ)

Petitioner Michael Matthews was convicted of a 2006 bank robbery and received a life sentence under the federal “three strikes” statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c). After exhausting his direct appeals, he filed a 2255 motion alleging, amongst other things, ineffectiveness of his trial counsel.

Matthew’s specific claim was that his counsel was ineffective because hired a private investigator, an ex-cop named Haumann, whom he knew had a conflict of interest. Matthews alleged that when Haumann was a police officer, he had arrested and “viciously assaulted” Matthews and had also treated him “with racial disdain and insensitivity.” Matthews backed this up with a newspaper article that confirmed the facts, except for the racial allegations. Nevertheless, the district court, adopting the government’s characterization of the claim as “general” “cursory” and “vague,” denied the petition without a hearing, although it did grant a COA.

On appeal, the circuit concluded that it was error for the district court to deny the 2255 without a hearing, and remanded the case for further proceedings on the ineffectiveness claim, along with anything else the district court intended to include in the COA, which did not specify any particular issue or issues.

To the circuit, there was clearly enough to the ineffectiveness issue to warrant a hearing. Strickland itself specifically identifies the investigation phase as a part of counsel’s performance that can be subject to an ineffectiveness claim, and Matthews alleged both that the investigator hired by his counsel was biased against him and that his counsel knew about the bias. “Although a conflict of interest or an inferable bias on the part of a person on whom the attorney relies for information in formulating a defense does not mean that the attorney himself has a conflict of interest, the record plainly reveals a plausible basis for an inference that Haumann could reasonably be expected to bear animus against Matthews. Matthews’s attorney’s reliance on such a person while knowing of that person’s presumable bias would call into question whether counsel had performed his ‘duty to make reasonable investigations’” under Strickland.

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