RICHARD LAPOINTE v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, SC 19079
Judicial District of Tolland
Habeas; Ineffective Assistance of Counsel; Whether Appellate Court Properly Determined that Habeas Counsel was Ineffective in Failing to Pursue a Claim that State had Suppressed Evidence in Violation of Brady v. Maryland. The petitioner was convicted of murder and other crimes in connection with the death of an eighty-eight year old woman from strangulation and smoke inhalation. He brought this habeas action, claiming, among other things, that his attorney in a prior habeas action was ineffective in failing to pursue a claim that he was deprived of a fair trial because the state suppressed certain allegedly exculpatory material in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The allegedly suppressed material consisted of a note written by a detective based on his conversations with fire marshals, which indicated a possible time that a fire in the victim's apartment could have been burning before firefighters arrived. The habeas court found that the note had been inadvertently suppressed by the state. It further determined that although the note was potentially exculpatory, the burn time referenced in the note was not material and that the petitioner was not prejudiced by his habeas counsel's failure to pursue the claim because none of the experts could determine the precise time that the fire had been set. On appeal, the Appellate Court (138 Conn. App. 454) ruled that the state's suppression of the note and habeas counsel's failure to pursue the claim prejudiced the petitioner and warranted a new trial. It indicated that the petitioner's trial attorneys testified that had the burn time information in the note been disclosed prior to the petitioner's criminal trial, their trial strategy would have changed. The trial attorneys specifically testified that they would have used the information in the note to buttress the petitioner's alibi defense and that the information would have been critical to the defense because they would have called the petitioner's former wife to testify that the petitioner was at home when the fire was set. The Appellate Court stated that such evidence, if believed by the jury, could have resulted in the jury's finding that it was temporally impossible for the petitioner to have committed the crimes of which he was convicted. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly ruled that habeas counsel was ineffective in failing to pursue a claim that the state had suppressed evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland.