Issue (derived from Jackson’s petition for review):
When a defendant claims ineffective assistance of counsel based on his trial lawyer’s failure to investigate alibi witnesses, and the State responds that these witnesses have credibility issues, may the circuit court deny the defendant’s claim without a Machner hearing where the alibi witnesses testify?
This is a fact-intensive 1st-degree homicide case. Jackson raised multiple ineffective assistance of counsel claims, but the main one seems to be trial counsel’s failure to investigate alibi witnesses. Jackson’s postconviction motion did not simply allege that the witnesses would support his alibi, he submitted their affidavits. The State apparently had decent arguments as to why these witnesses should not be believed.
The trial court is required to hold a Machner hearing when the defendant alleges sufficient material facts that, if true, would entitle him to relief. State v. Allen, 2004 WI 106, ¶14, 274 Wis. 2d 568, 682 N.W.2d 433. Specifically, he must allege who, what, where, when, and why he is entitled to relief. Jackson made the required allegations. The lower courts denied him a Machner hearing anyway due to the strength of the State’s arguments that the witnesses were not credible.
Jackson’s petition highlights the absurdity of the lower courts’ holdings. If the alibi witnesses are telling the truth, then he is innocent of homicide. Had they been permitted to testify at trial, the case would have been a credibility contest between two sets of witnesses. The petition argues: “How can a court determine whether an alibi witness is credible unless it hears their testimony from their own mouths? That should be enough to warrant an evidentiary hearing.”