Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, June 20, 2005

Rompilla: Failure to consult court records is ineffective assistance

In Rompilla v. Beard, No. 04-5462 (June 20, 2005), the Supreme Court held that capital counsel’s assistance in the penalty phase was constitutionally ineffective when he failed to examine the material he knew the prosecutor would rely on as evidence of aggravation. Counsel failed to examine the court file on Rompilla’s prior felony convictions – a file which was readily available. This was objectively unreasonable, and counsel’s consultation with the defendant and his family was not a sufficient substitute. The Court held that the lawyer’s lapse prejudiced the defendant, because the court record would have unearthed mitigation leads – such as the defendant’s mental disorders and organic brain damage and childhood problems probably related to fetal alcohol syndrome.