St. John v. Commissioner of Correction
Prejudice from trial counsel's failure to call an expert on dog tracking could not be established absent evidence at the habeas trial showing that the testimony from a dog tracking expert would have been helpful in establishing the petitioner's misidentification defense. Following a convenience store robbery, Mark St. John was detained nearby by police. Diesel, a German shepherd tracking dog, found a hat in bushes and tracked the scent from the store, jumping up on St. John, interpreted as the signal that the dog discovered the source of the scent being tracked. The store clerk and a witness also made pretrial identifications of St. John. Following a jury trial, St. John was convicted of robbery in the second degree and kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm. His amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied. St. John appealed contending that the court erred in denying his claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel because the court failed to consider all aspects of his claim relating to criminal trial counsel's failure to call a dog tracking expert and improperly concluded that his ineffective assistance of counsel claim failed to satisfy the prejudice prong from the two pronged test established in the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court case of Strickland v. Washington. The Appellate Court disagreed and affirmed the judgment. Because the habeas court properly concluded that the petitioner had not established prejudice, the Appellate Court declined to reach the first claim that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. As for prejudice, the petitioner provided no evidentiary basis for determining the dispositive issue, namely, whether with reasonable probability, a dog tracking expert's testimony would have changed the result of the criminal proceeding. The petitioner presented no expert witness on dog tracking at the habeas trial. Absent such evidentiary support, the petitioner could not sustain his burden of establishing prejudice.