Does An Ineffective Lawyer Change the Result In the Penalty Phase ?

In Ragsdale v. State, 798 So. 2d 713 (Fla. 2001), the Court found that counsel was ineffective and there was a reasonable probability that the result of the penalty phase would have been different but for counsel's failure to present evidence of the defendant's abusive childhood and history of drug and alcohol abuse. Although the limited evidence presented on Ragsdale's behalf involved some testimony regarding head trauma, no evidence was presented to explain the effects of the head trauma. Similarly, in Rose v. State, 675 So. 2d 567 (Fla. 1996), the Court found that counsel, who had not previously handled a death penalty case, failed to investigate the defendant's background and obtain records relating to the defendant's mental illness. At the postconviction evidentiary hearing, substantial mitigation was presented concerning Rose's childhood of poverty, abuse, and neglect. Additional evidence was presented indicating Rose's diminished learning capacity, head injuries, and chronic alcoholism. In contrast, no mitigation evidence was presented at the penalty phase. Instead, without investigating his options, counsel chose to present an accidental death theory to the jury, a theory that even counsel admitted was not viable. Under these circumstances we said counsel's failure to investigate and present substantial mitigation evidence "deprived Rose of a reliable penalty phase proceeding." 675 So. 2d at 574.