Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, December 09, 2013

Downs: No habeas relief for 1977 murder

In Downs v. Sec., Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 12-14248 (Dec. 5, 2013), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1977 murder. The Court rejected a Brady claim, finding that the state habeas courts reasonably credited a detective testimony that he only learned after Downs’ trial of a statement by an accomplice, Johnson, that he, Johnson, not Downs, was the killer. The Court also rejected a Brady violation based on the State’s failure to disclose the identity of a jailhouse informant, pointing out that Downs knew the information that this informant also knew, and that this informant did not witness the murder. The Court also rejected an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, finding that defense counsel’s advice that Downs not take the stand in his defense not to be constitutionally incompetent. Finally, the Court found that a contingency fee arrangement in which defense counsel agreed to receive $10,000, if Downs was acquitted of all felony charges, did not create a conflict of interest that affected the adequacy of representation. Downs claimed that the contingency fee arrangement gave defense counsel an incentive not to call any witnesses at trial, thus defeating possible conspiracy charges. The Court found no prejudice in the arrangement, crediting defense counsel’s statement that it would have taken “a miracle” to get Mr. Downs acquitted of all felony charges.