Smith v. Brookhart, No. 20-1588 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Smith has been in state prison for 19 years for a 2001 murder and robbery that he insists he did not commit. Smith had been charged on the basis of the confession by another (Houghtaling) and was tried three times. The state had no physical evidence linking Smith to the crime. In 2020, the district court held that he is entitled to release unless the state decides to retry him but Smith was seeking more: an unconditional writ based on the insufficiency of the evidence. The state appealed from the issuance of the conditional writ and Smith cross-appealed.
The Seventh Circuit reversed and ordered the issuance of an unconditional writ and Smith’s immediate release. Even taking the highly deferential view required by 28 U.S.C. 2254(d), the evidence failed to support Smith’s conviction beyond a reasonable doubt; the Illinois Appellate Court was unreasonable, in holding otherwise. The court noted the flaws in Houghtaling’s confession, the exclusion of evidence vital to Smith’s defense, and the trial court’s refusal to allow Smith to impeach prosecution evidence.