Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, July 19, 2013

Brown: Conflict-Free counsel not basis for 2255 relief

In Brown v. U.S., No. 09-10142 (July 10, 2013), the Court rejected a federal inmate’s § 2255 challenge to his death sentence for a 2002 murder of a federal employee.

The Court rejected the claim that trial counsel failed to adequately present mitigating evidence, finding that the topics cited in Brown’s § 2255 motion were already addressed at the original penalty phase. “Even if we could say that some of the information about Brown’s childhood drug and alcohol abuse was new and relevant mitigating evidence, we cannot fairly conclude on this record that there is a reasonable probability the jury’s balancing of the aggravating and mitigating factors would have been affected. Brown committed a brutal, unnecessary crime, his criminal record was lengthy, and the victim was beloved.”

The Court rejected the argument that one potential juror had not been asked follow-up questions about her views on the death penalty, finding that Brown did not previously raise the issue on direct appeal, having only mentioned in footnotes in his briefs unaccompanied by any claim of error. Appellate counsel were not ineffective in failing to raise this issue, because it had “so little merit.”

Finally, the Court rejected the argument that Brown should have been entitled to new, conflict-free habeas counsel, after his counsel had been reprimanded by the district court for contempt of court for having contacted jurors at the original trial without court permission. Brown alleged that his new attorney would have argued that the district court consider a juror affidavit. But the Court pointed out that this affidavit was not competent evidence, so “it would have been futile for the district court to have appointed new counsel in this case to further press the juror’s affidavit.”