Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stephens: Pleading guilty in mitigation not ineffective

In Stephens v. Sec. Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 11-11727 (May 1, 2012), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1997 murder.
The Court rejected the argument that a death sentence for felony murder violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, pointing out that the jury was properly instructed to find the requisite mens rea.
The Court rejected ineffective assistance of counsel claims, including a claim that counsel was deficient at the penalty phase. The Court noted that counsel made a strategic decision to present Stephens as a "good guy," and that other evidence would have been adverse to this defense. The Court also did not fault counsel for convincing the defendant to plead guilty to certain charged to show mitigation at the penalty phase.