STATE OF NEW JERSEY VS. L.A.
In this PCR case, presented after an evidentiary hearing on remand, we explicate the familiar Strickland prejudice standard, requiring a defendant to show "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 2068, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, 698 (1984). We note the test is not outcome determinative; "reasonable probability" does not mean more likely than not; it means "probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Ibid. We address the prejudice prong's application to a claim that counsel failed to call an exculpatory witness. We conclude a court must assess the absent or uncalled witness's credibility in light of the totality of the circumstances. The issue is not whether the absent witness is more credible than the State's witness; it is whether the absent witness'stestimony sufficiently undermined confidence in the result. The court's ultimate goal is to assess the challenged trial's fairness and reliability.
Here, the trial judge found the absent witness credible, but denied relief because he perceived the victim-witness more credible. We reverse the court's denial of PCR because the court failed to consider the totality of circumstances, and misapplied the test for determining prejudice under Strickland. 10-08-13