Supreme Court Directs Lower Court to Reconsider Death Penalty Decision

On May 24, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, thereby giving the defendant another chance to show that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective. Lawrence Jefferson was sentenced to death in Georgia, despite the fact that he had suffered serious head injuries as a child. In an appeal in state court, he claimed that his attorney failed to investigate this early trauma. The state court rejected this claim, and asked the prosecutors to draw up an opinion denying the appeal. The court then issued the opinion verbatim without giving the defense a chance to intervene. The Eleventh Circuit gave great deference to the state court’s decision and upheld the death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals failed to adequately consider whether Jefferson had been afforded a fair hearing in state court. The Court held that the Court of Appeals only considered one of the eight exceptions to the usual deference given state court findings. As with a number of capital cases this term, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and rendered its decision the same day, without oral argument or a signed opinion. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented from the per curiam opinion.

(Jefferson v. Upton, No. 09-8852 (U.S., cert. granted, reversed and remanded May 24, 2010) (per curiam)). Read the Supreme Court opinion here. See also U.S. Supreme Court.