The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has recently released an en banc decision in the habeas appeal of Wydell Evans v. Sec’y, Dept. of Corrections, No. 10-14920. As far as Eleventh Circuit opinions go, it’s rather long at 72 pages, but considering that it’s an en banc opinion, the 72 pages seems unexpectedly short. As one familiar with the Eleventh Circuit might expect, the majority opinion affirmed the denial of Evans’ petition for habeas corpus relief. In so doing, the Court focused its analysis on the prejudice prong of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), and held that even though Evans’ trial counsel performed only a minimal investigation into mitigating evidence for the penalty phase of the trial, and presented no mitigating evidence to the jury, Evans was not prejudiced because the evidence of mitigation which counsel could have presented was more harmful than helpful. See Evans v. Sec’y, Dept. of Corrections, Slip op., pgs. 3-37.
Whether you handle criminal defense, habeas petitions, death penalty work, or federal appeals, this opinion might be worth your time to review. Not only does Judge Jordan’s concurrence contain a good discussion of the standards of review applicable to habeas proceedings, but Judges Wilson and Martin author great dissents. Judge Wilson’s dissent focuses on the Court’s decision to render the en banc decision at all. If you handle federal appeals before the Eleventh Circuit, Judge Wilson’s dissent might be valuable the next time you have to draft an opposition to a motion for en banc consideration. See Evans, Slip op. pgs. 46-49. Judge Martin’s dissent contains a thought-provoking discussion of the role of defense counsel in death penalty cases. In short, Judge Martin agrees with the majority that the mitigating evidence that counsel could have presented to the jury would have portrayed Evans in a bad light. However, Judge Martin notes that the jury was already familiar with Evans’ character flaws, anyway. And, most importantly, Judge Martin observes: isn’t it the job of death penalty counsel to investigate and present whatever mitigating evidence can be found? See Evans, Slip op., pgs. 50-72.