Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cooper: Counsel's Failure to present mitigating evidence was ineffective

In Cooper v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 09-12977 (July 21, 2011), the Court granted habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentence to death for murders committed in 1982, finding that counsel was ineffective for failing to present mitigating evidence at the sentencing phase.

The Court found that counsel were ineffective in talking only to Cooper’s mother and a doctor when conducting a background investigation. The lawyers failed to interview potential witnesses, such as Cooper’s brother or sister, who would have testified about the extent of the abuse Cooper suffered from his father during his youth – testimony that the mother could not provide, because she was away for periods of Cooper’s life when she and Cooper’s father were separated.

Citing the its recent decision in Johnson, the Court found that Cooper was prejudiced by his lawyers’ ineffectiveness: “There was a wealth of mitigating evidence that was not presented.” This evidence would have supported both statutory and nonstatutory mitigators.