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Name: Lunbery v. Hornbeak
Case #: 08-17576
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 05/25/2010

The trial court denied appellant’s constitutional right to present a defense when it excluded credible evidence of third-party culpability. Appellant was tried for the murder of her husband based on a confession she gave to police nearly ten years after the crime. At the time of the original investigation, appellant had told police that she was shopping with her children at the mall several hours away when the death occurred. At that time, police also had statements from several sources that suggested the killer had shot the wrong man. The intended victim had been another man who used to live in the house and who had "ripped off several people in town over drug dealings." At trial, appellant repudiated her confession and sought to introduce evidence that the crime had been committed by people linked to the drug business, but the trial court disallowed it. A jury convicted appellant. The state appellate courts rejected the excluded third-party culpability claims, and affirmed. Appellant filed a federal habeas alleging the denial of the right to present a defense. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding exclusion of third-party culpability evidence violated the right to present a defense. As in Chambers v. Mississippi (1972) 410 U.S. 284, the evidence was excluded on the grounds of hearsay, but there was other evidence which corroborated it. As such, the excluded evidence had substantial guarantees of trustworthiness and was also critical to the defense.