Supreme Court finds constitutionally deficient counsel in Texas death penalty case
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Supreme Court finds constitutionally deficient counsel in Texas death penalty case

The US Supreme Court issued an unsigned opinion Monday finding that the petitioner was prejudiced at trial by constitutionally deficient counsel.

The case, Andrus v. Texas, involved an attempted carjacking, which resulted in two deaths, and for which the petitioner, Terence Andrus, eventually received the death penalty. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that, under the test established by Strickland v. Washington, Andrus received sufficient counsel. The Supreme Court vacated that decision and remanded the case so that the lower court may consider whether the plaintiff was prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to investigate.

Andrus was charged with capital murder for a failed carjacking that resulted in the death of the car’s owner and a bystander. His counsel conceded his guilt and told the jury it would “boil down to the punishment phase.” During the punishment phase, counsel made no opening statement and failed to present mitigating evidence. Most significantly, Andrus’ mother was called as a witness and testified that there were no drugs present in the home. However, according to Andrus, his mother started selling drugs when he was 6 years old and would often leave him and his four siblings alone for days or weeks at a time while she binged on drugs. At 10 or 11, Andrus was diagnosed with affective psychosis. At 16 years old, he was sentenced to 18 months in juvenile detention for serving as a lookout. While there, he frequently experienced long stints in solitary confinement and became steeped in gang culture, possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after his release. It was shortly after his release that he committed the crime in question. While being held on charges for that crime he attempted suicide.

Andrus’ counsel admitted that he was barely acquainted with the witnesses and did not investigate Andrus’ time in the juvenile detention center nor his mental health. The lower court will need to determine in the first instance if the deficiency in counsel prejudiced the jury in sentencing.