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    The Lawletter Blog

    CRIMINAL LAW: Ineffective Assistance—Death Penalty

    Posted by Mark Rieber on Mon, Sep 13, 2021 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 5

    Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In Andrus v. Texas, 140 S. Ct. 1875 (2020), the Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denying habeas relief to the petitioner challenging his death sentence and claiming that his counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and present mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of trial. At the guilty phase of defendant's capital murder trial, defense counsel essentially conceded guilt and indicated he would "be fighting" at the punishment phase. Counsel, however, presented limited evidence at sentencing and failed to investigate and overlooked "vast tranches of mitigating evidence." Id. at 1881. Counsel also failed to investigate the State's aggravating evidence. At the habeas hearing, counsel offered no tactical rationale for such failure, which was "all the more alarming given that counsel's purported strategy was to concede guilt and focus on mitigation." Id. at 1883. The Court easily found that counsel was ineffective at the penalty phase, despite the Texas state court's summary dismissal of such claim.

                The Court, however, remanded the case for the state court to address the prejudice prong of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The state court had found no prejudice, but the Supreme Court found that the state court did not appear to adequately address or analyze whether the prejudice prong had been met and that the state court may have concluded simply that Andrus failed to demonstrate the deficient performance under the first prong of Strickland without even reaching the prejudice prong.

                On remand, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that counsel's deficient performance, as found by the Supreme Court, did not prejudice Andrus, and criticized the Supreme Court's opinion. Ex parte Andrus, 622 S.W.3d 892 (Tex. Crim. App. 2021).

    Topics: criminal, Mark Rieber, ineffective assistance of counsel, death penalty

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