Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fourth Circuit holds counsel not ineffective for failing to introduce mental health evidence in mitigation

In MEYER v. BRANKER, the Fourth Circuit upheld a North Carolina capital sentence before the court on habeas review. Of note is counsel's failure to present mental health testimony in mitigation. counsel. Under the ABA Guidelines for Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, mental health mitigation evidence is extremely important to capital sentencing juries, and defense counsel therefore "should consider" including it at trial. ABA Guideline 10.11.F.2. Meyer argued his counsel was ineffective for failing to present mental health mitigation evidence.

The Fourth Circuit held that the ABA Guidelines are not dispositive in and of themselves and that no per se rule requires the presentment of such evidence at trial. The Court found counsel had good grounds for not presenting the evidence because after twice presenting mental health mitigation testimony unsuccessfully in previous proceedings, Meyer's counsel, after carefully considering and memorializing the testimony of seven experts, decided to adopt a new approach. This decision, according to the panel, "could hardly be termed unreasonable."

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