RI Supreme Court Denies Derick Hazard a New Trial

Amidst significant community protests, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled on Monday denying Derick Hazard’s appeal for a new trial.

Acting Chief Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg wrote the unanimous opinion of the Court.

This case came before the Supreme Court on January 27, 2009, on an appeal by the applicant, Derick Hazard (Hazard or applicant), from the denial of his application for post-conviction relief. On July 17, 1998, a jury found Hazard guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and assault with intent to murder. Hazard subsequently appealed to this Court, and we affirmed the judgment of conviction. State v. Hazard, 797 A.2d 448 (R.I. 2002). On June 6, 2005, Hazard filed an application for post-conviction relief based on the alleged ineffective assistance of his trial counsel. After three days of testimony, the hearing justice issued a written decision in which he denied Hazard’s application for post-conviction relief. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

The Court held that Hazard and his attorney – former Assistant Attorney General J. Richard Ratcliffe, failed to meet the 2-prong test from Strickland v. Washington for proving ineffective assistance of counsel pursuant to the Sixth Amendment.

Before this Court, Hazard asserts that Oddo’s performance as trial counsel was so deficient as to violate Hazard’s constitutional right to counsel. His contention is based on Oddo’s failure to investigate the New Jersey traffic stop despite knowing of it before trial. The applicant argues that Oddo’s inaction was “palpably unreasonable”; he further argues that, in light of the flawed eyewitness testimony provided by Williams at trial evidence of the traffic stop would have independently corroborated applicant’s alibi and, therefore, would have altered the outcome of the trial…

…In view of the totality of the circumstances, we agree with the hearing justice’s conclusion that Oddo was not provided with enough details to investigate the stop before trial or to allow him to make a good faith request for a continuance pending the outcome thereof. We are satisfied that the hearing justice properly rejected the testimony elicited from Hazard and his family, which was riddled with inconsistencies and mendacities, and chose to believe Oddo’s recollection of these events.

The hearing justice also concluded that the applicant deliberately failed to make a timely disclosure of the traffic stop for the purpose of avoiding any investigation, at or near the time of the stop, that seemingly would establish that he was not in the vehicle and place him, by inference, in Rhode Island at the time of the murder. Simply put, this Court will not fault counsel for his client’s deliberate attempt to withhold potential exculpatory information; Strickland does not require counsel to figure out why the client is not forthcoming. Accordingly, Oddo’s failure to develop the lead that the applicant may or may not have provided about the traffic stop does not rise to the level of constitutionally deficient assistance of counsel. Because the applicant has failed to show that Oddo’s performance fell below the objective standard of reasonableness, we need not reach the remaining prong of the Strickland test.

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