Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Whatley: Reversing Grant of Habeas Claim on Mitigation Claim and Affirming Denial of Habeas on Shackling Claim

In Whatley v. Ga. Diagnostic and Classification Center, No. 13-12034 (June 20, 2019) (Tjoflat, Hull, Jordan), the Court reversed the partial grant of habeas relief and affirmed the partial denial of habeas relief in a capital case.

The first claim, on which the district court granted relief, was that the trial lawyer was ineffective for failing to investigate and present mitigating evidence at the penalty phase.  The Court reversed because, on the prejudice prong, the district court failed to defer to the state supreme court's decision under AEDPA, applying de novo instead and re-weighing all of the evidence for itself.  Rather than remanding the case for the district court to conduct the correct analysis, the Court did so for itself and found that the state court's decision was not unreasonable.

The second claim, on which the district court denied relief, was that the trial lawyer was ineffective for failing to object to use of shackles during the sentencing hearing.  Although prejudice is typically presumed by the use of shackles when that claim is raised on direct appeal, the Court declined to presume such prejudice here, because a substantive shackling claim was procedurally defaulted on direct appeal, and so it was the defendant's burden to prove prejudice on collateral review under Strickland.  In that regard, the Court found that the defendant could not show that the state supreme court's decision declining to find actual prejudice was unreasonable.

Judge Jordan dissented as to the shackling claim, opining that the state court failed to conduct the prejudice inquiry with proper regard for the inherent harm that results from visible shackling.  He emphasized that the state court did not take into account the fact that the defendant wore shackles not only while taking the stand but also while being forced to re-enact the murder in front of the jury, with the prosecutor playing the director and victim in that re-enactment.  And he argued that the state court failed to analyze how the shackles may have affected the juror's views regarding his propensity for future violence, one of the major theme's of the prosecutor's closing argument.