Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, October 28, 2011

Guzman: Granting habeas relief based on false testimony

In Guzman v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 10-11442 (Oct. 27, 2011), the Court affirmed the grant of habeas relief to a Florida death row inmate. The Court found that the Florida Supreme Court unreasonably applied Giglio when it ruled that Guzman was not entitled to a new trial based on false testimony presented to the jury.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that while false testimony was presented at trial – two detectives falsely testified that a government witness received no benefit for cooperation when the witness was in fact paid $500 – this testimony was not “material.” The Florida Supreme Court reasoned that the witness’ credibility was amply impeached at trial. Reversing, the Court found that the impeachment was not so complete that there was “no reasonable possibility” that the false testimony could have affected the verdict. In addition, the remaining evidence of guilt was sufficiently “weak” “circumstantial” and “far from overwhelming” to foreclose an impact on the verdict. The witness was “critical” to the State’s case against Guzman, because she contradicted Guzman’s testimony about the events surrounding the murder. In addition, the witness changed her account after receiving $500 reward money.

The Court also found it significant that Guzman testified in his defense at trial, presented witnesses, and otherwise challenged the State’s evidence.