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Death Penalty Affirmed in Wood

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Justice Sotomayor's first full opinion in a capital case is a win for the state, upholding the sentence. Wood v. Allen involves a well-deserved death sentence for a man who had a habit of trying to murder his ex-girlfriends, succeeding on the third attempt. His attorneys decided not to use a mental defense in mitigation. The state court found that was a strategic decision, of the kind that is close to unreviewable under Strickland v. Washington. That factual determination was reasonable under 28 U.S.C. §2254(d)(2). The vote was 7-2 with Justices Stevens and Kennedy dissenting.

The opinion is quite short, with 8 pages of windup and 4 of pitch. The question of the interrelation of AEDPA's two provisions on state court findings of fact, §§2254(d)(2) and (e)(1), remains unresolved. If the state court decision is based on findings that are reasonable, given the evidence before the state court, and that court reasonably applies those facts to established Supreme Court precedent under (d)(1), nothing further needs to be decided. But we already knew that. See Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333 (2006). For further information on this, see CJLF's brief in the case at pages 5 and 10-14 (mentioned in footnote 2 of the opinion).

And once again, SCOTUS practitioners, if you want a question reviewed, you damn well better put it in the Questions Presented on page i of your petition, not bury it in the text. If this is your first trip to the high court and you don't know what you are doing, ask someone who does or at least read the Gressman et al. treatise. Sheesh.

1 Comment

You had noted in an earlier post that Sotomayor's record on AEDPA was not a bad one. Looks like you were right on that one.

This case seems like a pretty big win. I think that the decision is right. These guys decided to go a particular direction in a case, and that decision, as you point out, is pretty much unreviewable. And it should be. These guys were pretty familiar with the facts of the case, and two of them were experienced attorneys and it must be presumed that they could size up what was going to fly and what was not (note that they got two votes for life, double what was needed in many instances). From all appearances, there was a pretty weak capacity defense. And even if that capacity defense were theoretically stronger, so what--the prosecution's case was still tested, and that's really all the Sixth Amendment requires or, more accurately, should require.

The result in Wood is a little surprising. The caselaw doesn't always seem to point that way. I think smart defense counsel is going to point out the question that didn't get decided, and liberal judges are going to ignore the case to the extent they can get away with it. It will be interesting to see how more death penalty friendly judges apply this case.

Small typo, "your" should be "you're" at the end of the post.

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