Saturday, March 20, 2010

Middle District Judge Scriven Grants Habeas Petition - State Failed To Disclose Payment To Witness

In  Guzman v. Secretary, Department of Corrections, United States District Judge Mary Scriven granted a writ of habeas corpus filed by James Guzman because the state failed to disclose a witness had been paid.  Prior opinions from the Florida Supreme Court outline the facts and can found at the following links: Guzman v. State, 941 So. 2d 1045 (Fla. 2006); Guzman v. State, 868 So. 2d 498 (Fla. 2003); Guzman v. State, 721 So. 2d 1155 (Fla. 1998), cert. denied 526 U.S. 1102 (1999); and Guzman v. State, 644 So. 2d 996 (Fla. 1994).  Judge Scriven stated:
Nevertheless, it is clear that the State provided Ms. Cronin with a payment of $500,  which is a significant sum to an admitted crack cocaine addict and prostitute. Ms. Cronin was the key witness in this case, and the credibility of her testimony was critical to the State’s case against Petitioner. The $500 payment would have provided substantial and specific evidence of Ms. Cronin’s motivation to lie against Petitioner. The $500 payment was more than just another avenue of impeachment against an already discredited witness. The fact that the lead detective and the lead witness twice denied the existence of the payment is at least a tacit admission that it was perceived to have relevance to a reasonable fact finder viewing the credibility of this witness.
More importantly though, neither the trial court on remand nor, therefore, the Supreme Court of Florida on review, addressed the impact of the inability to impeach Detective Sylvester concerning her denial that any payment had been provided to Ms. Cronin. Petitioner’s counsel was never given the opportunity to impeach the detective concerning her false testimony with regard to the payment, or to impeach her regarding her having permitted the key witness to give false testimony under oath before the court in the trial proceeding. Certainly a reasonable, objective fact-finder would have considered such testimony relevant to the evaluation of the evidence.
The $500 payment would have been of special concern to the fact-finder since Ms. Cronin had previously and repeatedly denied any knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the murder.
Under the facts of this case and the applicable federal law, Petitioner has shown that the decision of the Supreme Court of Florida was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. Likewise, Petitioner has shown that the decision of the Supreme Court of Florida was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. For this reason, this issue is meritorious, and Petitioner is entitled to habeas relief on this claim.
The decision was discussed HERE in the Miami Herald and is below:
Guzman v. Florida


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