REPRESENTATION: On 50th Anniversary of Gideon, Some on Death Row Poorly Represented

Christopher Price is on death row in Alabama for the murder of a church minister in 1991. His current attorneys have asked the courts to enforce the ruling of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark 1963 decision guaranteeing the right to counsel for all defendants. According to Price’s appeal, his trial attorney failed to provide even a rudimentary defense during a penalty trial that lasted only 30 minutes. The attorney neglected to “investigate his background for potential mitigation evidence,” to “speak prior to trial with his family members, friends and schoolteachers,” and to “retain a mental health expert despite [the attorney’s] previous acknowledgment that a mental health report was essential to presenting a mitigation case.” The brief continued, “The only mitigation witness that trial counsel called was Petitioner’s mother, Judy Files. Trial counsel had not previously interviewed Mrs. Files, nor had she prepared Mrs. Files to testify. Even more critically, trial counsel was unaware that Mrs. Files had physically and mentally abused Petitioner throughout his life and had allowed several men with whom she had romantic relationships to routinely physically, sexually, and emotionally abuse Petitioner as well.” The lower courts have held that even if the attorney’s performance was deficient, it was not enough to warrant relief. On March 4, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Price’s case.

(A. Cohen, “When a Minister is Murdered, There is No Right to Counsel,” The Atlantic, March 7, 2013; Price v. Thomas, pet. for writ of cert.. (U.S., denied 2013); photo, Tuscaloosa News, 1993). See Representation and Supreme Court. Listen to DPIC’s podcast on Representation.