Monday, November 30, 2009

Supreme Court Reverses Eleventh Circuit On Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel Claim Involving Mitigation Evidence In Death Sentence Case

In Porter v. McCollum, 558 U.S. __ (2009) (08-10537), the United States Supreme Court reversed this decision of the Eleventh Circuit.  Mr. Porter is currently on death row in Florida, convited of murder. The Supreme Court described the facts as follows:
In July 1986, as his relationship with Williams was ending, Porter threatened to kill her and then left town. When he returned to Florida three months later, he attempted to see Williams but her mother told him that Williams did not want to see him. He drove past Williams’ house each of the two days prior to the shooting, and the night before the murder he visited Williams, who called the police. Porter then went to two cocktail lounges andspent the night with a friend, who testified Porter wasquite drunk by 11 p.m. Early the next morning, Porter shot Williams in her house. Burrows struggled with Por-ter and forced him outside where Porter shot him.
The issue in this case revolves around failure to present mitigating evidence.  The Supreme Court's opinion began:
Petitioner George Porter is a veteran who was bothwounded and decorated for his active participation in twomajor engagements during the Korean War; his combat service unfortunately left him a traumatized, changed man. His commanding officer’s moving description of those two battles was only a fraction of the mitigating evidence that his counsel failed to discover or presentduring the penalty phase of his trial in 1988.
A divided Florida Supreme Court denied postconviction relief on these same grounds in Porter v. State, 788 So. 2d 917 (Fla. 2001) (per curiam).  The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted habeas relief in Porter v. Crosby, No. 6:03–cv–1465–Orl–31KRS, 2007 WL 1747316(MD Fla., June 18, 2007). However, that decision was reversed by the Eleventh Circuit.  See 552 F. 3d 1260 (11th Cir. 2008).  The Supreme Court held:
In this federal postconviction proceeding, the District Court held that Porter’s lawyer’s failure to adduce thatevidence violated his Sixth Amendment right to counseland granted his application for a writ of habeas corpus. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, on the ground that the Florida Supreme Court’s determination that Porter was not prejudiced by any deficient performance by his counsel was a reasonable application of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984). Like the District Court, we are persuaded that it was objectively unreasonable to conclude there was no reasonable prob-ability the sentence would have been different if the sentencing judge and jury had heard the significant mitigation evidence that Porter’s counsel neither uncovered nor presented. We therefore grant the petition for certiorari in part and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


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