Wood v. Allen, No. 08–9156.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation175 L.Ed.2d 738,130 S.Ct. 841,558 U.S. 290
Docket NumberNo. 08–9156.
Decision Date20 January 2010
PartiesHolly WOOD, Petitioner, v. Richard F. ALLEN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, et al.

558 U.S. 290
130 S.Ct.
841
175 L.Ed.2d 738

Holly WOOD, Petitioner
v.
Richard F. ALLEN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, et al.

No. 08–9156.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Nov. 4, 2009.
Decided Jan. 20, 2010.


Kerry A. Scanlon, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner.

Corey L. Maze, Solicitor General, Montgomery, AL, for Respondents.

Kerry Alan Scanlon, David O. Bickart, Robert Grass, Karen R. Robinson, Dionne A. Fraser, Kaye Scholer LLP, Washington, D.C., Brady W. Mills, Troutman Sanders LLP, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner.

Troy King, Attorney General, Corey L. Maze, Solicitor General, Henry M. Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, Montgomery, AL, for Respondents.

Opinion

130 S.Ct. 845

Justice SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

558 U.S. 293

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 contains two provisions governing federal-court review of state-court factual findings. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), a federal court may not grant a state prisoner's application for a writ of habeas corpus based on a claim already adjudicated on the merits in state court unless that adjudication “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” Under § 2254(e)(1), “a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct,” and the petitioner “shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” In this case, petitioner, a capital defendant, challenges the key factual finding made by the Alabama state court that denied his application for postconviction relief: that his attorneys' failure to pursue and present mitigating evidence of his borderline mental retardation was a strategic decision rather than a negligent omission. Petitioner argues that the state court's finding was unreasonable under § 2254(d)(2) and that, in denying his federal habeas petition, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit erroneously conflated this standard with that of § 2254(e)(1), which petitioner contends is not applicable in cases, such as this one, not involving a separate federal habeas evidentiary hearing.

We granted certiorari to address the relationship between §§ 2254(d)(2) and (e)(1). We conclude, however, that the state court's factual determination was reasonable even under petitioner's reading of § 2254(d)(2), and therefore we need not address that provision's relationship to § 2254(e)(1). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals on that basis.

558 U.S. 294

I

In 1993, petitioner Holly Wood broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend and shot her in the head and face as she lay in her bed. The victim was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Charged with capital murder during a first-degree burglary, Wood was represented at trial in Alabama state court by three court-appointed attorneys: Cary Dozier and Frank Ralph, both of whom had significant trial experience, and Kenneth Trotter, who had been admitted to the bar for five months at the time he was appointed. The jury convicted Wood at the guilt phase of trial and recommended a death sentence at the penalty phase by a vote of 10 to 2. After a separate sentencing hearing, the trial judge imposed the death penalty. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Wood's conviction and sentence, Ex parte Wood, 715 So.2d 812 (1996), as did the Alabama Supreme Court, Wood v. State, 715 So.2d 819 (1998). This Court denied certiorari. Wood v. Alabama, 525 U.S. 1042, 119 S.Ct. 594, 142 L.Ed.2d 536 (1998).

Wood petitioned for state postconviction relief under Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32 (2009), arguing, among other things, that he was mentally retarded and not eligible for the death penalty, and that his trial counsel were ineffective under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), because they failed to investigate and present evidence of his mental deficiencies during the penalty phase of trial. App. to Pet. for Cert. 198a–202a, 207a–210a, 213a–216a, 220a–221a, 225a. The Rule 32 court held two evidentiary hearings and denied Wood's claims. On appeal, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals remanded for

130 S.Ct. 846

further consideration in light of Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335 (2002), which held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of the mentally retarded. Wood v. State, 891 So.2d 398 (2003).

On remand, the Rule 32 court conducted a third evidentiary hearing and once again denied relief. As to Wood's claim of mental retardation, the court found that, while the

558 U.S. 295

evidence suggested that he “probably does exhibit significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning,” he had failed to show “that he has significant or substantial deficits in his adaptive functioning.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 236a–237a.

The court also rejected Wood's factually related claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, concluding that Wood had failed to establish that his counsel's performance was deficient or that any deficiency prejudiced his defense. Id., at 257a–275a. The court first made a factual finding that Wood's counsel had made a strategic decision not to pursue evidence of his alleged mental retardation. The court observed that counsel had requested that a Dr. Karl Kirkland conduct a mental evaluation, had “thoroughly reviewed Dr. Kirkland's report,” and had “determined that nothing in that report merited further investigation.” Id., at 264a, 271a. The court additionally found that counsel appeared to have made a strategic decision not to present to the jury the limited evidence of Wood's mental deficiencies in their possession, because “calling Dr. Kirkland to testify was not in Wood's best interest.” Id., at 271a–272a. The court concluded that these strategic decisions were reasonable and thus that counsel had not performed deficiently. Ibid. The court further concluded that there was “no reasonable probability” of a different outcome had the evidence developed in the Rule 32 hearings been presented to the jury or to the sentencing court. Id., at 273a. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, App. 589–610, and the Alabama Supreme Court denied certiorari, id., at 4.

Wood then filed a petition for federal habeas relief under § 2254. The District Court rejected all of Wood's claims save one: that counsel's failure to investigate and present mitigation evidence of his mental deficiencies during the penalty phase constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. 465 F.Supp.2d 1211, 1239–1245 (M.D.Ala.2006). According

558 U.S. 296

to the court, there was “nothing in the record to even remotely support a finding that counsel made a strategic decision not to let the jury at the penalty stage know about Wood's mental condition.” Id., at 1242. Ralph and Dozier, the court noted, had placed the inexperienced Trotter in charge of the penalty phase. At the Rule 32 hearing, Trotter testified that he had seen the references to Wood's intellectual functioning in the Kirkland report but did not recall considering whether to pursue that issue. Trotter further testified that he had unsuccessfully attempted to subpoena Wood's school records and that he did not recall speaking to any of Wood's teachers. Trotter had also written to an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center explaining that he was “ ‘stressed out over this case and [didn't] have anyone with whom to discuss the case, including the other two attorneys.’ ” Id., at 1241. Shortly before the penalty phase began, Trotter told the judge that he would request further psychological evaluation before the judge's sentencing hearing, even though the evaluation would come too late to be considered by the jury. Id., at 1241–1242. Based on this evidence, the District Court concluded that the state court's finding “that a strategic decision was made not to investigate or introduce to the sentencing jury evidence of mental retardation [was] an unreasonable determination of the facts in

130 S.Ct. 847

light of the clear and convincing evidence presented in the record.” Ibid.

Having rejected the state court's factual determinations, the District Court held that counsel's performance was deficient and that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced Wood, concluding that the state court's holdings to the contrary constituted “an unreasonable application of federal law under Strickland . ” Id., at 1245. The court granted the petition on this claim and ordered the State either to resentence Wood to life without parole or to conduct a new sentencing hearing.

558 U.S. 297

In a divided opinion, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the grant of habeas relief. 542 F.3d 1281 (2008). The majority began by explaining the standard of review: “Section 2254(d) permits federal habeas relief only where the state courts'...

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249 practice notes
  • Cassano v. Bradshaw, Case No. 1:03 CV 1206
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • July 18, 2018
    ...habeasPage 28 court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'" Burt, 571 U.S. at 18 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)). Indeed, the Supreme Court repeatedly has emphasized that § 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, is an intentionally demanding standard, aff......
  • McNeill v. Bagley, Case No. 1:02 CV 1645
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • August 26, 2019
    ...habeas court wouldPage 27 have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'" Burt, 571 U.S. at 18 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)). Indeed, the Supreme Court repeatedly has emphasized that § 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, is an intentionally demanding standard, aff......
  • Broom v. Jenkins, Case No. 1:10 CV 2058
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • March 21, 2019
    ...the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'" Burt, 571 U.S. at 18 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)). Indeed, the Supreme Court repeatedly has emphasized that § 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, is an intentionally demanding standard......
  • Mulligan v. Sec'y, Case No. 3:16-cv-1006-J-34JBT
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
    • February 13, 2019
    ...would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'"[6] Titlow, 571 U.S. at ---, 134 S. Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 130 S. Ct. 841, 849, 175 L.Ed.2d 738 (2010)).Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323, 1337 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 2298 (2017......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
249 cases
  • Cassano v. Bradshaw, Case No. 1:03 CV 1206
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • July 18, 2018
    ...habeasPage 28 court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'" Burt, 571 U.S. at 18 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)). Indeed, the Supreme Court repeatedly has emphasized that § 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, is an intentionally demanding standard, aff......
  • McNeill v. Bagley, Case No. 1:02 CV 1645
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • August 26, 2019
    ...habeas court wouldPage 27 have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'" Burt, 571 U.S. at 18 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)). Indeed, the Supreme Court repeatedly has emphasized that § 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, is an intentionally demanding standard, aff......
  • Broom v. Jenkins, Case No. 1:10 CV 2058
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • March 21, 2019
    ...the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'" Burt, 571 U.S. at 18 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)). Indeed, the Supreme Court repeatedly has emphasized that § 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, is an intentionally demanding standard......
  • Mulligan v. Sec'y, Case No. 3:16-cv-1006-J-34JBT
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
    • February 13, 2019
    ...would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'"[6] Titlow, 571 U.S. at ---, 134 S. Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 130 S. Ct. 841, 849, 175 L.Ed.2d 738 (2010)).Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323, 1337 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 2298 (2017......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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