Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Johnson: Counsel not ineffective in failing to call prison expert

In Johnson v. Upton, No. 09-16090 (Aug. 23, 2010), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia inmate sentenced to death for a 1994 murder.

The Court rejected the claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to call a penological expert who would have testified, at the penalty phase of Johnson’s trial, that, statistically inmates who serve long prison sentences (instead of being sentenced to death) do not present a future danger because of their tendency to adjust to prison life. The Court found that evidence of Johnson’s own history of having attacked a jailer, and escaped, would undermine the expert’s testimony. Moreover, the statistical evidence was not conclusive. Further, it would have assumed that Johnson would be classified as a high security inmate, a fact unhelpful in mitigation.

The Court also found that any of the claimed ineffective assistance would not have prejudiced Johnson in the penalty phase, in view of the particularly gruesome nature of the murder, and Johnson’s subsequent assault when he escaped from jail.