Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, June 12, 2006

Atwater: Counsel did not preseve Batson Claim for Habeas

In Atwater v. Crosby, No 03-16259 (June 12, 2006), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1989 murder.
The Court recognized that the Florida Supreme Court incorrectly applied Batson v. Kentucky when it concluded that there was no error in the striking of the sole black juror on the venire. However, given the great deference owed to the Florida courts, and defense counsel’s failure in the Florida state trial court to present evidence of how similarly situated white jurors had been treated differently by the prosecution, the Court concluded that the error was not unreasonable, and therefore unworthy of habeas relief.
The Court also found no grounds for habeas relief in the Florida Supreme Court’s conclusion that Atwater’s counsel was not ineffective in seeking to spare Atwater’s life on the ground that he was guilty of second-degree murder only. The Court noted that this was a plausible defense strategy in light of the overwhelming evidence of guilt.
The Court found that Atwater had defaulted his claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to allow him to testify, and that, in any event, Atwater was not prejudiced by his failure to testify in light of the overwhelming proof of guilt.
The Court also found no error in the denial of an evidentiary hearing on Atwater’s claim that counsel was ineffective in failing to put on mitigation evidence at the penalty phase. The Court noted that this was virtually the same evidence, through other witnesses, as the evidence which was presented.