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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Previewing the Coming Term (Part Seven): Wood v. Allen

[This is the seventh in a series of posts by CrimProf’s graduate fellow, Peter Stockburger (University of San Diego Class of 2009), previewing the criminal law and procedure cases scheduled for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this coming term. Peter excerpts and paraphrases the briefs of the parties to provide an overview of the cases and the advocates’ arguments. Links to the briefs of the parties appear at the end of the summary.]

Docket No.: 08-9156
Case: Wood v. Allen
Oral Argument Date: November 4, 2009

Issue:  (1) Whether the state court erred in concluding that, during the sentencing phase of a capital case, the defense attorney’s failure to present the defendant’s impaired mental functions constituted ineffective counsel; and (2) whether the 11th Circuit erred in its application of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) in reviewing the state court decision.

Factual and Procedural History:  In 1994, petitioner, Holly Wood, was convicted of capital murder during a first-degree burglary.  The jury recommended a death sentence, and after a pre-sentencing report and a separate sentencing hearing, the trial judge sentenced petitioner to death.  On direct appeal, the Alabama Court of Appeals rejected petitioner’s appeal, and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed.

After the U.S. Supreme Court denied petitioner’s original writ of certiorari, petitioner filed an Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 32 petition for post-conviction relief, claiming (1) he is mentally retarded and not eligible for a death sentence, and (2) his trial counsel were ineffective by failing to investigate and present evidence of his mental deficiencies during the penalty phase.  After two evidentiary hearings, the Rule 32 court denied both of petitioner’s requests in two separate orders.

Following the issuance of these orders, and following subsequent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence, the Alabama Appeals Court remanded petitioner’s Rule 32 case.  On remand, the Rule 32 court denied petitioner’s claims, finding petitioner was not mentally retarded and his counsel were not ineffective.  The Alabama Appeals Court adopted and affirmed the Rule 32 court finding.  Subsequently, the Alabama Supreme Court denied certiorari.

Petitioner then filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for relief.  The district court denied some claims, but granted relief on petitioner’s claim that his counsel were ineffective in the penalty phase by failing to investigate and present evidence of his deficient “intellectual functioning.”  On appeal, a divided panel of the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that petitioner had “failed to show the state courts made an unreasonable determination of the facts” because at a minimum, petitioner has not presented evidence, “much less clear and convincing evidence, that counsel” acted ineffectively.  The majority also held that petitioner had failed to establish prejudice.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted petitioner’s petition for a writ of certiorari on May 18, 2009.  Oral argument is scheduled for November 4, 2009.

Summary of Petitioner’s Arguments:  Petitioner argues that the Eleventh Circuit’s judgment, reversing the district court’s grant of habeas relief on petitioner’s ineffective assistance claim, should be reversed for three reasons. 

First, petitioner argues that trial counsel were ineffective because they terminated their investigation into petitioner’s mental deficiencies in the face of facts that any reasonable defense lawyer would have understood required follow-up, not abandonment.  Second, according to petitioners, the state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the totality of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.  And third, petitioner contends the individual findings of fact in the state court record are rebutted by clear and convincing evidence, entitling petitioner to relief.

According to petitioner, the deficient performance of his counsel prejudiced his case as the jury was deprived of the opportunity to give “full consideration of evidence that [would] mitigate[] against the death penalty.”  Petitioner argues that if this evidence was presented, it is very likely that his conviction would have “resulted in at least one more vote for a sentence of life without parole.”  

Summary of Respondent’s Argument:  Respondent has not yet filed a merit brief.

Brief for Petitioner Holly Wood
 

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Comments

Good synopsis. I helped with the editing of the ACLU amicus brief and was fascinated by the AEDPA issue-whether the AEDPA requires that the petitioner show that the state court's factual determinations were unreasonable or that the state court's factual determinations were wrong by clear and convincing evidence. Woods is a great statutory construction case, and a good example of extremely poor legislative drafting.

Posted by: Keith Kollmeyer | Aug 28, 2009 9:57:07 AM

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