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Supreme Court issues summary decision in favor of defense attorney

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued a summary decision [opinion, PDF] on Monday in Wong v. Belmontes [docket; cert. petition, PDF], finding that a defendant's attorney was not required to present mitigating evidence that could have given prosecutors an opportunity to discuss a previous murder committed by the defendant. The Court reversed the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held [opinion, PDF] that the attorney's failure to present the alternative theory resulted in ineffective assistance of counsel during sentencing. In its per curium decision, the Court found:

It is hard to imagine expert testimony and additional facts about Belmontes' difficult childhood outweighing the facts of McConnell's murder. It becomes even harder to envision such a result when the evidence that Belmontes had committed another murder - 'the most powerful imaginable aggravating evidence,' as Judge Levi put it, is added to the mix. Schick's mitigation strategy failed, but the notion that the result could have been different if only Schick had put on more than the nine witnesses he did, or called expert witnesses to bolster his case, is fanciful.

Belmontes was convicted of murdering a woman in 1981 while trying to steal a stereo from her home.

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