Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lee: No habeas relief for Alabama death row inmate

In Lee v. Comm., Ala. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 12-14421 (Aug. 1, 2013), in a 128-page opinion, the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to an Alabama inmate sentenced to death for two 1998 murders. The Court rejected Lee’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, finding no prejudice could have resulted from deficient performance. The Court found that Lee presented no significantly new mitigating evidence, including evidence regarding Lee’s diminished mental capacity, and noted the “horrific and heinous facts of his two premeditated and cold-blooded murders.” The Court also rejected the challenge to the state trial court’s decision to override the jury’s recommendation of life without parole, and to impose a death sentence. The Court held that Ring v. Arizona “left open” whether such judicial override was constitutionally valid; Ring merely held that the Sixth Amendment requires the jury to make the finding of an aggravating circumstance that is necessary to impose the death penalty - a finding the jury made here. Finally, the Court rejected a Batson claim of discrimination during jury selection (the State used all of its 21 peremptory strikes and 17 of its 18 cause strike on black venire members). Applying AEDPA deference to the Alabama court’s “plain error” review of this claim, and rejecting Lee’s reliance on the too “summary” nature of the adjudication of this claim in the Alabama courts, the Court found no Batson grounds for habeas relief. The Court noted that 9 of the 12 jurors who ultimately served on the jury were black. The Court found insufficient evidence to support the claim that the local District Attorney’s office historically used race discrimination during jury selection. The Court credited the prosecutor’s race neutral reasons for striking several venire members.