ABA Asks Supreme Court to Confirm Standard for Effective Counsel in Capital Cases

February 28, 2020 by Dan McCue
A police officer stands guard on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 15, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Thursday asking the Supreme Court to hear the case of an Arkansas man challenging the way a lower court assessed whether he received effective counsel during the punishment phase of his death penalty trial.

Timothy Wayne Kemp was convicted in Arkansas of four counts of murder and sentenced to death.

At issue is whether his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to adequately investigate and present mitigating evidence related to Kemp’s childhood abuse, fetal-alcohol exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Both the trial court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the investigation of Kemp’s background as sufficient, although both concluded a more complete investigation could have prevented a death sentence from being imposed.

In its brief the ABA cited its own guidelines for the appointment of counsel in death penalty cases, arguing the trial court did not meaningfully apply the “prevailing professional norms” standard that governs this case.

The brief also points to the 1984 Supreme Court decision in Strickland v. Washington, in which the justices held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel also carried with it a means to assess whether a defense attorney was objectively deficient, and whether there was a reasonable probability that a competent attorney would have led to a different outcome.

The ABA brief said that in recent years courts have “seized on language” in a 2009 Supreme Court decision to avoid conducting a legal and factual analysis of whether counsel’s representation fell short of an objective standard of reasonableness in light of “prevailing professional norms.”

The effect in the Kemp case, the ABA brief argued, was that the lower courts upheld the death sentence even though his counsel’s failure to hire a mitigation investigator or perform a more robust background investigation “fell below relevant benchmarks for reasonable counsel performance.”

“Had this attorney fulfilled his duty to conduct a thorough investigation of Kemp’s background consistent with the Sixth Amendment and prevailing professional norms, the lawyer would have discovered evidence that would have likely saved Kemp from a sentence of death,” the brief said.The case is Timothy Wayne Kemp v. Dexter Payne, Director, Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court Holds Large Piece of Oklahoma Belongs to Native American Tribe
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Holds Large Piece of Oklahoma Belongs to Native American Tribe
July 9, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a large part of eastern Oklahoma belongs to Native American tribes - a significant victory for a reservation that challenged the state's authority to prosecute crimes on its land. Writing for the majority, in the 5-4 decision, Justice... Read More

Constitution Does Not Bar Issuance of State Criminal Subpoena to Sitting President
Supreme Court
Constitution Does Not Bar Issuance of State Criminal Subpoena to Sitting President
July 9, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that neither Article II of the Constitution nor the Supremacy Clause categorically preclude or require a heightened standard for the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting president. The 7-2 ruling by the high court in... Read More

Supreme Court Rules Job Discrimination Laws Don’t Protect Church-School Teachers
Employment
Supreme Court Rules Job Discrimination Laws Don’t Protect Church-School Teachers

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday banned teachers who work at church-run schools from filing discrimination lawsuits against their employers, ruling that the Constitution’s protection for religious liberty exempts church schools from state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The justices, by a 7-2 vote, shielded two... Read More

Justices Allow Limited Access to Free Birth Control Under ACA
Supreme Court
Justices Allow Limited Access to Free Birth Control Under ACA
July 8, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Trump administration regulation that lets employers with religious objections limit women’s access to free birth control under the Affordable Care Act. The 7-2 decision could have a profound, immediate effect on as many as 126,000 women who... Read More

Chief Justice John Roberts Briefly Hospitalized in June
Supreme Court
Chief Justice John Roberts Briefly Hospitalized in June
July 8, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - Chief Justice John Roberts spent a night in the hospital last month after he fell and injured his forehead while walking for exercise near his home, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said Tuesday night. According to court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg, Roberts' injuries required sutures and... Read More

Supreme Court Upholds Cellphone Robocall Ban
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Upholds Cellphone Robocall Ban
July 6, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON— The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a 1991 law that bars robocalls to cellphones. The case, argued by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, stems from a 2015 decision by Congress to carve out an exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top