Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, June 17, 2011

Johnson: Counsel ineffective at sentencing phase

In Johnson v. Secretary, DOC, No. 09-15344 (June 14, 2011), the Court held that a Florida death row inmate, convicted of a 1979 murder, was entitled to federal habeas relief because counsel was ineffective in preparing a mitigation case at the sentencing phase.

The Court found that defense counsel “waited until the eleventh hour” to begin preparing for the sentencing phase “and then, not surprisingly, failed to adequately do so.” Johnson had told counsel about his abusive alcoholic father and mother, and counsel failed to investigate. Counsel should have begun investigating mitigating evidence, because the evidence of culpability in the guilt phase was overwhelming.

The Court found that Johnson was prejudiced by the failure to present the “horrible” physical and emotional he experienced as a child.