PCR - Lawyers Should Interview Defendant's Alibi Witnesses

In Joseph Walker vs. State of South Carolina, decided on March 19, 2014, the S.C. Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and granted a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). Generally speaking, PCR is a legal mechanism where someone convicted of a crime asks to have their case reversed due to a constitutional violation. The most common ground is ineffective assistance of counsel.

Walker was accused of a 2002 sexual assault committed on a woman he met at a gas station and helped repair her car. The woman had been kept held until approximately 5:00 a.m. the following morning. Walker was arrested after the victim identified him based off of the gas station's security footage. While he had admitted going to the gas station, he denied assaulting the victim, repairing her car or even meeting her in the first place. Walker said that after he left the gas station he went to a friend's house before going to his girlfriend's home around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. and staying there for the remainder of the night.

After a jury trial conducted in Aiken County, the jury convicted Walker of kidnapping and sexual assault. He was sentenced to 24 years to be served in the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Walker's lawyer had failed to interview the girlfriend prior to trial, and failed to call her as a witness to establish an alibi. This was even though Walker had provided his girlfriend's name to his lawyer (she had the girlfriend's name listed in her notes as a person to interview but apparently never followed up).

At the PCR trial the girlfriend was called to the stand to testify as to what she would have testified had she been called as a witness during Walker's original trial. Although her testimony was somewhat vague, ultimately she stated that she had spent every weekend with Walker prior to his arrest. Her testimony, if true, would have established an absolute defense to the kidnapping and sexual assault trial. The Court held that on this basis Walker's lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel, violating his constitutional right to an attorney.

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