Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Puiatti: Counsel not ineffective for missing red flags of child abuse

In Puiatti v. Sec., Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 12-15581 (Oct. 15, 2013), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1983 murder. The Court rejected the argument that defense counsel was ineffective at the penalty phase of the trial for ignoring “red flags” of child abuse. The Court noted that Puiatti’s attorney did not receive any document that suggested that Puiatti was abused as a child. Moreover, counsel asked questions about Puiatti’s background and childhood but received misleading answers. In addition, counsel could not be faulted for failing to link Puiatti’s history of drug abuse with an otherwise-undisclosed history of child abuse. Further, the Court found that even if counsel had been ineffective, this did not affect Puiatti’s substantial rights. “Although Puiatti’s childhood was far from ideal, the record does not establish that the jury or the state trial court here would have necessarily found it a mitigating factor or a strong one at that.” In addition, had Puiatti been portrayed as a sympathetic victim of his parents’ abuse, this would have invited the State to put on a rebuttal case showing that the murder was consistent with a pattern of antisocial behavior.