Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

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.