Sotomayor Upholds Death Sentence Despite “Debatable” Legal Work


In Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s first opinion on capital punishment, the Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death penalty for an Alabama inmate whose attorney declined to present evidence about the man’s mental deficiencies to a jury deciding his fate, the Washington Post reports.

Writing for a 7-to-2 majority, Sotomayor said that while the wisdom of the lawyer’s decision might be “debatable,” it was not unreasonable to think he had made a strategic decision that kept out more damaging evidence about his client. Holly Wood killed his former girlfriend with a shotgun while she was sleeping in her home in 1993. Wood challenged his death sentence on several grounds, including the decision by his inexperienced attorney not to pursue and introduce to the jury a psychologist’s report about Wood’s diminished mental capacity. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld Wood’s sentence, but a federal judge agreed with Wood that the lawyer’s performance was incompetent.

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