PCR and Alibi Witnesses (Part 1)

by | Apr 28, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On January 14, 2021 the New Jersey Supreme court decided the Camden County case of State v. Donnell Gideon. The principal issue concerned whether trial counsel’s failure to call alibi witnesses constituted ineffective assistance of counsel and warranted a new trial.

Justice Solomon wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: Gideon was arrested after being implicated by an eyewitness, Vincent Robinson, in a July 2004 shooting in Camden. On the day of his arrest, Gideon provided police officers with a statement. Gideon told the officers that he had fought with Tony Alford earlier on the day of the shooting, after Alford allegedly robbed individuals who sold drugs for Gideon. After the fight, Gideon walked home and, before arriving, was stopped by Alford, who was driving by. Alford told Gideon “it ain’t over,” which Gideon interpreted as a threat. Upon arriving home, Gideon called Eric Jackman. Jackman, Gideon, and a third man rode in Jackman’s car, looking for Alford. Believing they saw him, they parked and entered an alley. Gideon then heard gunshots.

At trial in 2007, the State played the audio recording of Gideon’s statement to police and offered the testimony of Robinson, who said he saw Gideon and two others wearing black and armed, standing in the alley at the time of the shooting. Gideon testified that police “told him what to say” during his initial statement. In contrast to that statement, Gideon testified that, before arriving home, he saw his mother, Gideon-Nichols, who drove Gideon back to the scene of the fight to make peace with Alford and shake hands, then drove Gideon home and went to work. On cross-examination, Gideon testified for the first time that he remained home through the night with his girlfriend, Bey. Gideon-Nichols and Bey were present at Gideon’s trial but did not testify. Gideon was convicted on multiple counts. Five years later, Gideon filed a petition seeking post-conviction relief (PCR), alleging ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to investigate and call Gideon-Nichols and Bey as alibi witnesses.

The reference to the five-year delay is likely due to it taking years for the direct appeal issues to be decided. Our Court Rules require direct appeal issues to be decided before post-conviction relief is sought. Direct appeal issues can be decided based on the trial record. Post-conviction relief issues concern matters outside of the trial record.