Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blankenship: Counsel Not Ineffective to only address guilt,not mitigation

In Blankenship v. Hall, No. 08-10511 (Sept. 15, 2008), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia inmate sentenced to death for a 1978 murder.
Blankenship claimed that his state trial counsel provided constitutionally deficient representation by failing to investigate and present evidence of Blankenship’s traumatic childhood at the sentencing phase.
The Court noted that Blankenship bore the burden of proof on this issue. The Court noted counsel’s vague memories, owing to the length of time that elapsed after the trial and before they were questioned about their performance. However, the record showed that counsel knew about Blankenship’s struggle with drugs and alcohol, the family history of schizophrenia, and his "difficult background." Further, Blankenship himself was "in the best position" to inform his counsel on such matters. In order to prove that his counsel was deficient, Blankenship had to show his counsel were unaware of these matters. Blankenship did not show this. Further, Blankenship instructed counsel not to contact his family.
Finally, the Court found that counsel’s strategy at sentencing was to create doubt about Blankenship’s guilt for the murder, to the exclusion of mitigating evidence regarding punishment. "[F]aced with a brutal rape and murder of an elderly woman," Counsel’s strategy was "far from baseless," and, in fact, "sensible."