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No Prejudice Due to Allegedly Ineffective Assistance in Capital Habeas Matter

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By FindLaw Staff on June 24, 2010 11:23 AM

In Suggs v. McNeil, No. 09-12718, a capital habeas matter, the court of appeals affirmed the denial of petitioner's petition, holding that the decision of the Florida Supreme Court that petitioner failed to prove prejudice due to allegedly ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984), was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

As the court wrote:  "This appeal from the denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus presents the question whether the attorneys who represented Ernest Suggs, a Florida prisoner sentenced to death, deprived Suggs of effective assistance by failing to investigate and present a defense of mental health mitigation for the penalty phase of his trial. In 1992, a jury found Suggs guilty of robbery, kidnapping, and murder. The state proved that Suggs in 1990 kidnapped Pauline Casey, who was working alone at the Teddy Bear Bar in Walton County, Florida; Suggs drove Casey several miles from the bar, and stabbed her multiple times in the neck and back, nearly decapitating her; and Suggs stole about $200. During the penalty phase, Suggs's attorneys presented evidence of his good character, but the jury recommended, by a seven-to-five vote, a sentence of death, which the trial court accepted. In a collateral attack of his conviction and sentence in state court, Suggs argued that his attorneys should have investigated and presented evidence of his "intellectual inefficiency." The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the attorneys' failure to investigate and present a defense about Suggs's mental health did not undermine confidence in the result of the penalty phase. Because we conclude that the decision of the Florida Supreme Court that Suggs failed to prove prejudice under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984), was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, we
affirm."

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