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The U.S. Supreme Court on May 14 ruled, 5-4, that a federal judge did not abuse his discretion in refusing to allow an Arizona death row inmate to pursue an ineffective assistance of counsel claim after the inmate had refused to allow his lawyer to present mitigating evidence at his sentencing hearing. Schriro v. Landrigan, No. 05-1575. Jeffrey Landrigan, imprisoned in Oklahoma for second-degree murder, escaped and murdered a man in Arizona. The Arizona jury found Landrigan guilty of felony murder. At sentencing, Landrigan’s counsel sought to present the testimony of Landrigan’s ex-wife and mother as mitigating evidence. At Landrigan’s request, both women refused to testify. Landrigan’s counsel explained, “it’s at my client’s wishes.” The trial judge found two statutory aggravating circumstances � murder in expectation of pecuniary gain and two previous violent felony convictions � and sentenced Landrigan to death. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed. Landrigan petitioned for state post-conviction relief, alleging that his attorney had failed to investigate the “biological component” of his violent behavior by interviewing his biological father, who would testify that his biological mother used drugs and alcohol while pregnant with Landrigan. The court rejected Landrigan’s claim; the state high court affirmed. Landrigan filed a federal habeas application. An Arizona federal court refused to grant an evidentiary hearing. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, but the en banc court reversed, holding that Landrigan was entitled to an evidentiary hearing because he had raised a “colorable claim” about his counsel’s performance. The circuit court said that counsel had failed to investigate mitigating evidence, including Landrigan’s family’s history of drug and alcohol abuse. The court also found that when Landrigan said he didn’t want his counsel to present any mitigating evidence, he was clearly referring only to testimony from his ex-wife and mother. The justices reversed. Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said that an evidentiary hearing should only be granted if it could enable an applicant to prove the petition’s factual allegations, which, if true, would entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief. In Landrigan’s case, the district court was well within its discretion to determine that, even with an evidentiary hearing, Landrigan couldn’t develop a factual record entitling him to federal habeas relief. Thomas also said that, contrary to what the 9th Circuit determined, Landrigan had told his counsel not to present any mitigating evidence, not just the testimony of his ex-wife and birth mother. Thus, the court was entitled to conclude that regardless of what information Landrigan’s counsel might have uncovered in his investigation, Landrigan would have refused to allow his counsel to present it. Thomas said that the 9th Circuit also erred in rejecting the district court’s finding that the poor quality of Landrigan’s alleged mitigating evidence prevented him from making a colorable prejudice claim. Because most of the mitigating evidence that Landrigan sought to introduce would have been offered by his birth mother and ex-wife had he allowed them to testify, the district court could reasonably conclude that any additional evidence would have made no difference to the sentence. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. concurred. Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent was joined by justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

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