Sometimes I miss having a slower practice and the ability to dodge phone calls for a bit and do a post. The per curiam in Porter v. McCollum (08-10537), here, is one of those reasons.
The Court this term, through its per curiams, seems to be really emphasizing that a competent investigation, informed decision making, and reasonable trial strategy is required in order not to be found ineffective, Wong v. Bellemonte. Don’t do those three things and ineffectiveness is almost assured. Today’s case falls into the latter category. Counsel failed to adequately investigate his client’s military record and the horrors he had seen in the ugly face of war. The aftermath of war, as it does with so many soldiers, left him a broken man.
Today’s opinion expressly, and unanimously reaffirmed Rompilla. But more than that, as the SCOTUSBlog notes, it reaffirms an unwritten bond between a nation and its veterans:
“Our Nation has a long tradition of according leniency to veterans in recognition of their service, especially for those who fought on the front lines as Porter did,” the opinion said. “The relevance of Porter’s extensive combat experience is not only that he served honorably under extreme hardship and gruesome conditions, but also that the jury might find mitigating the intense stress and mental and emotional toll that combat took on Porter.” . . . .
The Court also cited, clearly with approval, laws of two states that provide special legal protection for veterans involved in crimes and suffering from combat stress — a California law providing a special hearing for a person convicted of crime who claims the offense resulted from PTSD or other conditions stemming from military combat service, and a Minnesota law providing a special sentencing process for a vetrer dianosed with a mental illness.
In Porter’s case, the Court did not say explicitly that it was overturning his death sentence for his 1986 crimes. Rather, it concluded that he was entitled to relief in a post-conviction federal habeas case, on the theory that the jury, had it heard about his wartime experiences and other evidence about mental problems, it might well have refused to recommend a death sentence. The Court sent the case back to the Eleventh Circuit Court, presumably to order a new sentencing proceeding. The Court’s order did not say what the Justices expected to happen next.
The weekly should be out later tonight.