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Supreme Court Decision Update - Schriro v. Landrigan

Thomas%202001-55.jpg Today’s Supreme Court case, Schriro v. Landrigan (PDF of the Opinion) is pretty straightforward – in fact, despite the fact that I generally disagree with the conservative majority, I’m still not positive why the case even warranted a decision from the Supreme Court, except for the fact that the 9th Circuit often has it’s head up its ass, forcing the Supremes to overturn their decisions. Anyway, here goes:

Jeffrey Landrigan is a messed up dude. In 1982, he was convicted of second-degree murder. In 1986, while serving out his sentence, he stabbed an inmate. Then, he escaped prison and murdered another man. He was convicted of that murder, and during the sentencing hearing, Landrigan’s attorney attempted to present mitigating evidence in the form of testimony from his mother and ex-wife. However, Landrigan asked them not to testify. The district court judge attempted to get Landrigan to change his mind and even tried to get the two women to testify over Landrigan’s objections. They refused. Then, the following took place:

When counsel tried to explain that Landrigan had worked in a legitimate job to provide for his family, Landrigan interrupted and stated “[i]f I wanted this to be heard, I’d have my wife say it.” Landrigan then explained that he was not only working but also “doing robberies supporting my family.” When counsel characterized Landrigan’s first murder as having elements of self-defense, Landrigan interrupted and clarified: “He didn’t grab me. I stabbed him.” Responding to counsel’s statement implying that the prison stabbing involved self-defense because the assaulted inmate knew Landrigan’s first murder victim, Landrigan interrupted to clarify that the inmate was not acquainted with his first victim, but just “a guy I got in an argument with. I stabbed him 14 times. It was lucky he lived.”

At the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, the judge asked Landrigan if he had anything to say. Landrigan made a brief statement that concluded, “I think if you want to give me the death penalty, just bring it right on. I’m ready for it.”

Unsurprisingly, Landrigan got the death penalty. What is surprising, however, is that Landrigan appealed, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel. He complained, of all things, that his lawyer failed to present mitigating evidence. The district court denied his motion, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that Landrigan’s attorney did little to prepare for the sentencing hearing and that if he had done his job, he would’ve discovered a lot of evidence pertaining to Landrigan’s family’s history of drug and alcohol abuse, which should’ve been presented.

The Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit (surprise, surprise), upholding the district court’s decision. In an opinion written by Justice Thomas (and joined by the other conservatives, the Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Chief Justice Johnny), the Supremes basically concluded that such matters were up to the district court’s discretion. And, given the evidence here (specifically, Landrigan’s recalcitrance), Landrigan could not show that the district court abused its discretion. The district court’s decision was reasonable, says Thomas, and the 9th Circuit had no business overturning it.

In his dissent, Justice Stevens asserts, as did the 9th Circuit, that Landrigan’s counsel failed to thoroughly investigate the mitigating circumstances, of which there was apparently quite a bit. Stevens then argues that Landrigan’s waiver of his right to present mitigating circumstances was no good because the waiver wasn’t “knowing” and “voluntary.” Indeed, and this is where Steven’s argument does make some sense, the only mitigating circumstances that Landrigan chose not to present was the testimony of his wife and birth mother. However, there were ample amounts of other mitigating evidence (such as an organic brain disorder) that his counsel didn’t even attempt to present. Therefore, Stevens says, Landrigan didn’t really get the chance to waive it. And, unless Landrigan “knew of the most significant mitigation evidence available to him, he could not have made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his constitutional rights.”

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that the man said “bring it on” to the death penalty.

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Comments

Silly 9th Circuit.

Silly 9th Circuit.

That's the point if you are brain damaged can you knowingly waive mitigating circumstances your attorney should have brought before the sentencing court. Landrigan was brain damaged at the time of his sentencing. His attorney failed to bring it before the court and it would have explained his attempted waiver of certain testimony i.e. testimony by his birth mother re use of alcohol and drugs during pregnancy. His attorney offered no psychiatric or psychological testimony at sentencing. Thus raising the issue of ineffective counsel that the District Court should have granted a hearing on. To do otherwise was an abuse of discretion. Therefore this decision allows suicide by court by a brain damaged man when no one knew he was brain damaged including the sentencing judge and the defendant. Thus all mitigating circumstances were not heard at the sentencing hearing due to ineffectiveness of counsel.