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Nix v. Whiteside

Whiteside's Crime And Defense

The crime occurred on 8 February 1977 in Iowa, when Whiteside and two friends stopped by Calvin Love's residence to purchase marijuana. When they arrived, Love was sleeping and an argument between Whiteside and Love broke out over the marijuana. Throughout the course of the argument, Love asked his girlfriend to get his "piece" or gun and began reaching under his pillow at another point. Whiteside saw Love reaching under the pillow and fatally stabbed him.

Confronted with murder charges, Whiteside objected to his first appointed lawyer, because he had been a prosecutor. Gary L. Robinson was assigned to defend Whiteside and questioned him about the incident. Whiteside said that he stabbed Love because he saw him, "pulling a pistol from underneath the pillow on the bed." However, when Robinson questioned this statement, Whiteside admitted that he had not actually seen a gun, but that he was sure Love was retrieving a pistol when he was slain. Despite Whiteside's insistence that Love had a gun, no police evidence supported his claim. The police searched Love's apartment after the murder, but found no gun. Furthermore, Robinson learned from interviewing Whiteside's companions who accompanied him that they had not seen a gun either.

Therefore, Robinson advised Whiteside not to testify that he had actually seen a gun, because he could make a self-defense argument based solely on the reasonable belief that Love was getting a gun. Although Whiteside repeatedly said he had not seen a gun, about a week before his trial he told Robinson that he had seen Love holding a "metallic" object. Robinson questioned the statement and Whiteside replied that "in Howard Cook's case there was a gun" and said "If I don't say I saw a gun, I'm dead." Robinson once again assured him that seeing a gun was not necessary for his defense and warned him that giving a false statement constituted perjury. Robinson also informed Whiteside that he would withdraw from the case if he insisted on giving false testimony.

At the trial, Whiteside testified that he knew Love had a gun, which he was trying to get at the time of the stabbing, and that he stabbed Love quickly in self-defense. During cross examination, Whiteside conceded that he had not seen a gun, however. But Robinson presented evidence to demonstrate Whiteside had strong reason to believe Love had a gun and was getting it at the time of the stabbing. Robinson argued that Love carried a sawed-off shotgun at other times, that the police search of Love's place may not have been thorough enough, and that Love's family removed all of his belongings immediately after the police search.

Nonetheless, a jury convicted Whiteside of second-degree murder, so Whiteside filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that Robinson prevented him from having a fair trial because he warned him not to say he saw a gun or something "metallic." The trial court heard statements by both Whiteside and Robinson and decided to deny Whiteside a new trial, holding that the facts of the case corresponded to Robinson's account. The Supreme Court of Iowa upheld Whiteside's conviction, noting that the right to effective counsel did not mean the right to an attorney who would assist in presenting perjured testimony.

Whiteside did not give up, however, and filed for a writ of habeas corpus--a legal document granting relief from improper imprisonment--from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. The district court denied Whiteside the writ, agreeing with the trial court that the accused have no right to present a perjured defense. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, granting Whiteside a writ of habeas corpus. Though court of appeals agreed with the other courts that Robinson had strong reason to believe Whiteside would commit perjury and that Whiteside has no constitutional right to give false testimony, it argued that since Robinson threatened to inform the court of Whiteside's intention to commit perjury and withdraw his services, he failed to preserve the confidence of his client. The court of appeals felt that by having intent to testify falsely, Whiteside did not forfeit his right to effective counsel.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Nix v. Whiteside - Significance, Overview, Whiteside's Crime And Defense, A Unanimous Decision, Federal District Court