WASHINGTON (CN) — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor blasted the court’s rejection Thursday of a case where a man says his lawyer’s failure to show mitigating evidence sent him to death row.
Anibal Canales Jr. was sentenced to death for killing a fellow inmate while incarcerated for sexual assault. He argued his counsel was deficient and failed to provide significant mitigating evidence at sentencing, but the court declined to hear his case.
Selectivity from the court with regard to the cases it accepts is expected — indeed the court turn down dozens of cases in its final order list of the term Friday — but Sotomayor argued in her dissent that Canales was sentenced to death by a jury “without hearing any meaningful evidence about why life in prison might be punishment enough.”
Canales says this is because his defense attorney failed at trial to tell the jury both of his history of abuse as a child and that a prison gang known as the Texas Syndicate would have killed Canales if he had not participated in a murder alongside members of a rival gang.
But the Fifth Circuit held that his defense attorney’s performance did not prejudice Canales. With the court's refusal to hear his appeal, the decision stands.
“This Court has repeatedly recognized that failing to put exactly that type of evidence before the jury casts irreparable doubt on the integrity of its recommendation of death,” Sotomayor wrote.
Several other justices wrote dissenting opinions or statements Friday about more than half a dozen of the various cases rejected by the Supreme Court on Friday in a final mop-up before the court adjourns for the summer.
The high court also refused this morning to hear the case Danny Hill, who is on death row despite having been diagnosed with intellectual disabilities approximately 10 separate times in his life. Hill was convicted of murder and sentenced to death before the court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that it is unconstitutional to execute someone with an intellectual disability.
In a bid for reconsideration after Atkins, Hill noted that his IQ regularly tested at 70 or below when he was in school and he was never able to sign live independently or ready and write above a third-grade level. This information was also not new. At his trial, three medical professionals testified that he had an intellectual disability.
The Sixth Circuit denied relief, however, and the Supreme Court refused to take up his case. Here, too, Sotomayor dissented Friday.
“There is overwhelming record support for the fact that Hill has intellectual disabilities, as the state courts recognized at his trial and on direct appeal. It was only by discounting extensive past evidence of intellectual disability and focusing myopically on Hill’s structured interactions with law enforcement, prison officials, and the courts that the state post conviction courts came to a different conclusion,” she wrote.
In yet another death penalty case turn down Friday, Paul David Storey says he was prejudiced at trial by a prosecutor’s convincing but ultimately untrue statement that the family of Storey’s victim “and everyone who loved him believe the death penalty is appropriate.”
The victim’s parent’s had actually lobbied prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, a fact that was never disclosed to Storey or his attorneys. When it finally came to light eight years later, Storey’s scheduled execution was mere months away.
By this time, however, the Fifth Circuit ruled that Storey’s appeal would be barred as a second or successive habeas petition.
Sotomayor agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case, but issued a statement warning of the danger the Fifth Circuit’s ruling could create for incarcerated people.