Supreme Court backs Bryan Stevenson's 15-year effort to reexamine death-row case

A unanimous Supreme Court victory is Professor Bryan Stevenson’s latest milestone in his 15-year effort to vindicate a man on death row. In the case Anthony Ray Hinton v. Alabama, the Court ruled on February 24 that Hinton did not receive effective counsel during his capital trial, declaring the lawyer’s performance deficient in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Court reversed and remanded the case back to the Alabama courts for further review.

Bryan Stevenson

Hinton had been arrested for two murders in 1985. With no eyewitnesses or fingerprints, the case hinged on ballistics evidence. Mistakenly believing he could pay only $1,000 for an expert ballistics witness, Hinton’s attorney hired someone who was inexperienced and blind in one eye. After the prosecution discredited the expert on the stand, Hinton was convicted and received two death sentences. Stevenson took Hinton on as a client in 1999 and has worked his way tirelessly up through higher courts on Hinton’s behalf, as detailed in a 2007 profile published in the NYU Law magazine.

"I'm delighted to win relief for Mr. Hinton, who has been on death row for 28 years for crimes he did not commit,” said Stevenson. “There is more work to do, but this is an important step forward."

Stevenson has prevailed more than once in previous Supreme Court cases. In 2012, his oral arguments in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs yielded an opinion overturning mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of murder. That opinion, in turn, was built on Graham v. Florida (2009), in which the Court ruled similarly regarding non-homicide juvenile convictions, echoing Stevenson’s reasoning in a parallel case he argued that same term.

Stevenson’s co-counsel in Hinton were Charlotte Morrison ’00 and Aaryn Urell ’01, who both worked with Stevenson as students in his Equal Justice and Defender Clinic before becoming attorneys at his nonprofit law organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama.

Posted on February 26, 2014