Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lynd: No habeas relief for lack of mental health expert

In Lynd v. Terry, No. 06-11374 (Nov. 28, 2006), the Court denied habeas relief to a Georgia inmate sentenced to death for a 1988 murder.
The Court rejected the claim that Lynd was deprived of his right to the assistance of competent experts in violation of Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985). The Court found that much of Lynd’s claim was procedurally barred because he failed to raise it earlier, in state proceedings. Further, the Court held that the Georgia state courts did not deviate from federal precedent when they held that Lynd was not entitled to call a mental health expert to testify on his behalf when he refused to submit to an examination by an expert hired by the State of Georgia.
The Court also rejected the argument that counsel was ineffective in advising Lynd to refuse to submit to a state mental health examination, finding that it was Lynd himself who so decided. The Court also found that counsel adequately investigated Lynd’s background and mental health.
The Court further rejected the claim that counsel failed to investigate whether the victim would have not have regained consciousness after being shot in the head twice and placed in the trunk of a car, thereby obviating a kidnapping conviction. The Court found that this argument was developed and presented to the jury.
Finally, the Court rejected the argument that counsel’s representation, years earlier, of the victim’s mother’s ex-husband in a bankruptcy proceeding created a conflict-of-interest.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ayers: Catchall Instruction ok for Death Sentence

In Ayers v. Belmontes, No. 05-493 (Nov. 13, 2006), the Supreme Court held that there was no reasonable likelihood that jurors in the penalty phase of a capital case interpreted the court’s "catchall" instruction, which directed the jurors to consider "[a]ny other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime" to preclude consideration of the petitioner’s evidence that he would lead a constructive life if incarcerated. The Court held that in light of the arguments of both defense counsel and the prosecution during the penalty phase regarding the petitioner’s potential for improvement, it was implausible that the jury would have understood the instruction to preclude its consideration of rehabilitation evidence. Consequently, the instruction was consistent with the constitutional right to present mitigating evidence in a capital proceeding.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Williams: 5-kilo conspiracy plus priors = mandatory life

In U.S. v. Williams, No. 06-10302 (Nov. 13, 2006), the Court affirmed the imposition of a mandatory life sentence for conspiracy to possess five or more kilos of cocaine, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(ii).
The Court rejected Williams’ argument that his five-kilo conspiracy conviction could not be treated as having occurred after two or more prior felony convictions became final, because the five-kilo transaction occurred before the one of his prior convictions became final. The Court pointed out that conspiracy is a continuing crime, and that here the conspiracy to distribute cocaine, of which the five-kilo transaction was but one object, continued after the prior drug conviction became final. Hence, it was correct to count this prior conviction against Williams for purposes of imposing a mandatory life punishment.
Reviewing Williams’ second challenge to his sentence for plain error, the Court rejected the argument that the prior conviction should not have been counted as "final" because the time for appealing this conviction extended to a date less than two months before Williams’ arrest for the instant offense. The Court noted that the focus is not on the passage of time, but on the degree of continued criminal activity. Here, Williams’ attempt to obtain two kilograms of cocaine, though prevented by the actions of law enforcement, occurred after the prior conviction became final, and was a sufficient degree of criminal activity to justify triggering a life imprisonment.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Chavers: Judgment, Not Mandate, Starts AEDPA period

In Chavers v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 05-15163 (Oct. 31, 2006), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate whose petition it found to be time-barred under AEDPA’s one-year limitations period.
The Court rejected the argument that the one-year statute of limitations begins to run 90 days after a mandate issues from the final decision of a Florida appellate court on direct review of a conviction. [Note: Unlike Lawrence v. Florida, presently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, which involves the AEDPA statute of limitations after collateral review in the State courts, Chavers’ case involves the limitations period after direct review in the State courts]. Instead, the 90-day period begins to run after the entry of judgment by a Florida appellate court. This latter date is the date on which the 90-day period commences for filing a certiorari petition in the United States Supreme Court. Accordingly, it is the date of the entry of the judgment, not the date of the issuance of the mandate, that commences the one-year statute of limitations. Using this latter date as the starting point, Chavers’ federal habeas petition was time-barred.

Alderman: "Lingering Doubt" Theory Not Deficient Performance

In Alderman v. Terry, No. 04-14595 (Oct. 30, 2006), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia death row inmate convicted of the 1974 murder of his wife.
The Court rejected Alderman’s argument that his counsel was ineffective in the penalty phase of his sentencing proceedings by failing to investigate and to present to the jury his social-history background.
The Court noted that counsel’s strategy was to rely on a "lingering doubt" as to culpability basis for avoiding a sentence of death. Further, counsel presented numerous character witnesses. The Court rejected Alderman’s argument that counsel misunderstood that the law would permit a further mitigating case based on life-history evidence. The Court pointed out that as a result of the character witnesses the jury heard about Alderman’s social-history background. Further, the over-arching "lingering-doubt" strategy was one that satisfied Alderman’s right to competent representation.
The Court further noted that Alderman did not suffer "prejudice" as a result of any deficiency in counsel’s representation.