Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, November 28, 2005

Michael: No ineffective assistance on PTSD defense

In Michael v. Crosby, No. 04-10137 (Nov. 21, 2005), the Court affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas petition by a state inmate convicted of killing her ex-husband by shooting and stabbing him several times in the presence of their two sons. Specifically, the Court held that the state court's decision, following a full evidentiary hearing, that Michael's counsel was not ineffective under Strickland was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. Michael argued that her trial attorney had rendered ineffective assistance by failing to properly investigate or present a PTSD defense. Her trial attorney had testified at the state habeas hearing that, at the time of the trial, PTSD evidence was not admissible under Florida law to establish a complete defense. He thus elected to pursue a defense based on Battered Spouse Syndrome. When his experts opined that Michael did not suffer from BSS, counsel pursued a defense of learned helplessness which was included in the diagnosis of one expert. All the experts agreed that Michael exhibited symptoms of PTSD. The trial court excluded the evidence of learned helplessness. Michael was acquitted of first-degree murder and convicted of the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder with a firearm. The trial court sentenced her to life imprisonment based largely on the brutal nature of the offense and the fact that her children were present at the scene of the crime. The state court, on habeas review, found that the decision of trial counsel was a reasonable trial strategy in light of the law on PTSD evidence at the time. It thus held that counsel was not ineffective under Strickland. The Court agreed with the district court that the state court decision was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Strickland and affirmed the denial of habeas relief.