Reversal of Death Sentence Because Counsel Failed to Investigate and Present Defendant's Childhood Abuse as Mitigating Evidence Not Disturbed

Karis v. Calderon, 283 F.3d 1117 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, Woodford v. Karis, 123 S. Ct. 2637 (2003); 71(50) U.S. Law Week 3795 (July 1, 2003)

Perhaps reflecting its decision in Wiggins (described above), the Supreme Court declined to review the ruling of the Ninth Circuit that overturned the imposition of the death penalty for ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment because defendant's attorney failed to thoroughly investigate and present during the sentencing phase substantial mitigating evidence concerning the defendant's childhood history.  This evidence included abuse inflicted upon the defendant and his mother by his father and stepfather. Notwithstanding the family's denial of and reluctance to discuss this abuse, the Ninth Circuit said counsel should have investigated and presented this evidence in view of the extremely probative and wrenching nature of the evidence, the sparseness of the mitigating evidence actually offered, the prosecution's focus on the defense's failure to provide substantial mitigating evidence, and the fact the jury took three days to reach a verdict in favor of death.  The court stressed such evidence was vital for informing the jury about the background and character of the defendant in a capital case so that the defendant is treated as a uniquely individual human being and a reliable determination is made that death is the appropriate sentence...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1