SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Jefferson S. Dunn, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections v. Matthew Reeves
on petition for writ of certiorari to the us courtroom of appeals for the eleventh circuit
No. 20–1084. Decided July 2, 2021
Willie Johnson towed Matthew Reeves’ damaged-down automobile lower back to the town after locating Reeves stranded on an Alabama dust road. In fee for this act of kindness, Reeves murdered Johnson, stole his cash, and mocked his dying spasms. Years after being convicted of murder and sentenced to demise, Reeves sought kingdom postconviction comfort, arguing that his trial recommend need to have employed an professional to expand sentencing-segment mitigation evidence of highbrow disability. But in spite of having the burden to rebut the strong presumption that his legal professionals made a legitimate strategic preference, Reeves did now not call any of them to testify. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals denied comfort, stressing that lack of evidence about recommend’s choices impeded Reeves’ efforts to show that they acted unreasonably. Reeves v. State, 226 So. 3d 711, 750–751 (2016).
On federal habeas review, the Eleventh Circuit held that this evaluation turned into now not most effective wrong, however indefensible. In an unpublished, in step with curiam opinion that drew heavily on a dissent from denial of certiorari, the Eleventh Circuit reinterpreted the Alabama courtroom’s lengthy opinion as enforcing a simple in step with se prohibition on remedy in all cases in which a prisoner fails to question his suggest. Reeves v. Commissioner, Ala. Dept. of Corrections, 836 Fed. Appx. 733, 744–747 (2020). It was the Eleventh Circuit, however, that went off beam in its “readiness to characteristic mistakes.” Woodford v. Visciotti,
537 U. S. 19, 24 (2002) (consistent with curiam). Federal habeas courts must defer to affordable state-court selections,
28 U. S. C. §2254(d), and the Alabama courtroom’s treatment of the spotty record in this situation changed into consistent with this Court’s reputation that “the absence of evidence can't overcome the sturdy presumption that counsel’s behavior fell in the extensive range of affordable expert help.” Burt v. Titlow,
571 U. S. 12, 23 (2013) (inner citation marks and brackets unnoticed).
In November 1996, Reeves and some pals decided to “exit searching out a few robberies. ” Reeves, 226 So. 3d, at 719 (inner quotation marks left out). The group’s initial goal turned into a drug provider in a nearby city, however their car broke down and left them stranded on the side of the street. A few hours later, but, Johnson occurred to force by in his truck and presented to tow the disabled car to Reeves’ house.
After they arrived, Reeves, who was using within the mattress of the truck, stuck a shotgun via the rear window of the cab and shot Johnson within the neck. As Johnson sat slumped within the driver’s seat “bleeding closely and making gagging noises,” Reeves directed the rest of the group to “go through Johnson’s pockets to get his cash.” Id., at 720 (inner citation marks disregarded). Throughout the rest of the day, Reeves time and again “brag[ged] about having shot Johnson,” boasting that the murder “might earn him a ‘teardrop,’ a gang tattoo obtained for killing someone.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks left out). And at a celebration that night, Reeves invented a dance wherein he “faux[ed] to pump a shotgun” and “jerk[ed] his frame around in a manner mocking the way that Willie Johnson had died.” Ibid. (brackets and internal citation marks disregarded).
Alabama charged Reeves with murder and appointed suggest for him. His attorneys took several steps to develop mitigating proof, such as exploring the possibility that Reeves became intellectually disabled. For instance, they obtained sizeable data of Reeves’ instructional, medical, and correctional records. Counsel additionally asked investment to hire a neuropsychologist, Dr. John Goff, to assess Reeves and prepare mitigation proof. And while the trial court docket to begin with rejected that request, suggest effectively sought reconsideration.
After the court docket granted funding, Reeves’ legal professionals controlled to acquire extra mental-health data from the State, consisting of files related to a pretrial competency assessment that featured a partial administration of an IQ take a look at. The totality of the evidence pondered that Reeves had a afflicted youth, suffered from numerous behavioral difficulties, and turned into inside the “borderline” range of intelligence. While in college—before being expelled for violence and misbehavior—he have been referred to special services for emotional battle and behavioral troubles. But Reeves’ statistics additionally showed that he had previously been denied special academic offerings for intellectual incapacity. Counsel also found out that Reeves had attended instructions and earned certificates in welding, masonry, and car mechanics. And the psychologist who to start with evaluated Reeves later opined that he turned into no longer intellectually disabled.
At some factor earlier than trial, Reeves’ legal professionals seemingly elected to pursue different mitigation strategies rather than hiring Dr. Goff. The report does no longer screen the exact reason for this decision—in all likelihood due to the fact Reeves did no longer ask them to testify. The document does display, however, that counsel supplied a holistic mitigation case. For example, counsel referred to as numerous witnesses at sentencing—such as Reeves’ mom and the psychologist who completed the competency assessment—and elicited testimony about Reeves’ turbulent formative years, neglectful family, and educational problems. The jury, but, recommended a demise sentence.
Reeves later sought postconviction relief in state court, alleging almost 20 theories of errors. Relevant right here, he asserted that he changed into categorically exempt from execution by means of cause of intellectual incapacity, see Atkins v. Virginia,
536 U. S. 304 (2002), or not less than that recommend need to have employed Dr. Goff to develop mitigation along the ones traces to be used at sentencing, see Porter v. McCollum,
558 U. S. 30 (2009) (consistent with curiam). At a 2-day hearing in kingdom court, Reeves referred to as two experts, consisting of Dr. Goff. The health practitioner concluded that Reeves became intellectually disabled, explaining that the so-known as Flynn Effect—a debatable idea involving the inflation of IQ scores through the years—required adjusting Reeves’ rating downward into the 60s. Dr. Goff additionally noted some of behavioral checks that supposedly confirmed Reeves’ shortcomings in adaptive functioning. For its part, the State supplied the professional testimony of Dr. King, who administered his personal evaluation and concluded that Reeves become now not intellectually disabled. In truth, Dr. King mentioned that Reeves had a leadership function in a drug-dealing organization and earned as a whole lot as $2,000 a week.
Despite Reeves’ consciousness on his lawyer’s performance, he did no longer give them the opportunity to give an explanation for their moves. Although all three of his attorneys apparently were alive and available, Reeves did now not name them to testify.
The trial court denied comfort, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. First, it agreed that Reeves had did not show that he turned into honestly intellectually disabled and for this reason exempt from execution. Reeves, 226 So. 3d, at 744. The court docket particularly addressed Dr. Goff ’s reliance at the Flynn Effect, reiterating that this technique “has not been typical as scientifically legitimate through all courts” and changed into “now not settled in the mental community.” Id., at 739 (internal citation marks overlooked). In reality, even Dr. Goff had “admitted that he did not use the ‘Flynn Effect’ for over two decades after it become first found.” Ibid.
Second, the courtroom rejected Reeves’ declare that recommend have to have employed an professional to increase mitigating evidence of intellectual incapacity. Stressing that an attorney’s selection not to hire an professional is “usually [a] strategic decisio[n]” a good way to “now not represent in step with se deficient overall performance,” the court docket appeared to the document to evaluate the “reasoning behind counsel’s movements.” Id., at 750, 751 (internal citation marks omitted). In this example, the court discovered, “the report [was] silent as to th[ose] motives” “because Reeves failed to name his counsel to testify.” Id., at 751 (inner citation marks not noted). Hence, he could not overcome the “presumption of effectiveness” that courts ought to afford to trial counsel. Ibid. (inner quotation marks overlooked).
Reeves sought certiorari, which we denied over a dissent. Reeves v. Alabama, 583 U. S. ___ (2017) (opinion of Sotomayor, J.). The dissent acknowledged that the “absence of recommend’s testimony might also make it extra tough for a defendant to satisfy his burden” of proving deficient performance, but nevertheless would have reversed and remanded as it understood the Alabama court docket to have implemented “a express rule that recommend have to testify in order for a petitioner to be successful on a federal constitutional useless- help-of-suggest declare.” Id., at ___, ___ (slip op., at 2, 9). Although the dissent noted no selection in which this Court reprimanded a kingdom court docket for taking that approach, it reasoned that such a rule became contrary to choices in which this Court had “found deficient performance no matter [attorney] testimony, based totally on a evaluate of the whole record.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 9).
Reeves next sought federal habeas assessment. The District Court denied relief, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed in part. Like every courtroom earlier than it, the Eleventh Circuit first rejected Reeves’ declare that he became intellectually disabled. 836 Fed. Appx., at 741. But, it held that his lawyers had been constitutionally deficient for no longer developing more proof of intellectual disability and that this failure may have modified the final results of the trial.
In accomplishing that end result, the Eleventh Circuit defined that it owed no deference to the “unreasonable” decision of the Alabama courtroom. §2254(d). Quoting at period from the sooner dissent from denial of certiorari, the panel reasoned that “a per se rule that the petitioner ought to present recommend’s testimony” was truly contrary to federal law. Id., at 744–747. And, to illustrate that the Alabama court had carried out this kind of rule, the Eleventh Circuit excised a single declaration from a prolonged block quote: “ ‘[T]o conquer the strong presumption of effectiveness, a [state] petitioner have to, at his evidentiary hearing, query trial counsel concerning his actions and reasoning.’ ” Id., at 744 (emphasis deleted). The Eleventh Circuit then reasoned that the country court docket really must have imposed this “express rule” due to the fact its opinion additionally stated that Reeves’ “ ‘failure to name his attorneys to testify turned into deadly to his claims.’ ” Ibid. (emphasis deleted; brackets left out). But that quote was not pretty whole; the unique sentence reads, “In this situation, Reeves’s failure to call his legal professionals to testify is deadly to his claims of ineffective help of suggest.” Reeves, 226 So. 3d, at 749 (emphasis added).
This case provides a easy question: Did the Alabama court violate certainly hooked up federal regulation whilst it rejected Reeves’ declare that his legal professionals have to have employed an expert?
In answering this question, we owe deference to each Reeves’ counsel and the nation court docket. As to suggest, we have frequently defined that strategic decisions—consisting of whether or not to hire an professional—are entitled to a “strong presumption” of reasonableness. Harrington v. Richter,
562 U. S. 86, 104 (2011). Defense lawyers have “restricted” time and resources, and so need to choose from amongst “ ‘endless’ ” strategic alternatives. Id., at 106–107. Such decisions are especially hard because positive approaches bring the danger of “harm[ing] the defense” by using undermining credibility with the jury or distracting from extra critical troubles. Id., at 108.
The burden of rebutting this presumption “rests squarely at the defendant,” and “[i]t should move without saying that the absence of evidence can't overcome [it].” Titlow, 571 U. S., at 22–23. In reality, even though there may be motive to assume that recommend’s behavior “was far from exemplary,” a courtroom nonetheless might not supply alleviation if “[t]he report does not monitor” that suggest took an method that no ready legal professional might have selected. Id., at 23–24.
This analysis is “doubly deferential” when, as right here, a nation courtroom has decided that suggest accomplished properly. Id., at 15 (internal citation marks neglected); see also Sexton v. Beaudreaux, 585 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018) (in step with curiam) (slip op., at 7–8) (deference is “near its apex” in such cases). A federal courtroom may also furnish habeas relief most effective if a country court violated “simply mounted Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of america.” §2254(d)(1) (emphasis brought). This “huge latitude” method that federal courts can accurate handiest “excessive malfunctions within the state crook justice syste[m].” Richter, 562 U. S., at 102, 106 (internal quotation marks neglected). And in reviewing the paintings of their peers, federal judges ought to start with the “presumption that state courts recognize and comply with the regulation.” Woodford, 537 U. S., at 24. Or, in extra concrete phrases, a federal courtroom may also grant comfort best if every “ ‘fairminded juris[t]’ ” would agree that every reasonable legal professional would have made a unique choice. Richter, 562 U. S., at one zero one.
A trustworthy software of these principles exhibits the quantity of the Eleventh Circuit’s errors. We start, as we must, with the case because it got here to the Alabama court. Reeves had filed a one hundred-plus-page quick alleging manifold mistakes, inclusive of numerous theories of ineffective help of counsel. Reeves, 226 So. 3d, at 749–750, and n. 16. Many of these attacked primary strategic picks, consisting of his current argument that counsel need to have hired Dr. Goff to expand additional evidence of highbrow disability. Yet, regardless of Reeves’ determination to discover fault along with his legal professionals, he supplied no testimony or other evidence from them.
That omission become particularly substantial given the “variety of possible reasons [Reeves’] suggest may also have had for proceeding as they did.” Cullen v. Pinholster,
563 U. S. 170, 196 (2011) (inner quotation marks overlooked). This isn't a case in which a legal professional “didn't uncover and gift any proof of [Reeves’] mental health or intellectual impairment, [or] his circle of relatives historical past.” Porter, 558 U. S., at forty (emphasis introduced). Counsel’s preliminary enthusiasm to gather Reeves’ facts and gain investment hardly ever indicates expert forget about and disinterest.
Rather, we virtually do now not recognise what information and considerations emerged as counsel reviewed the case and delicate their approach. The lawyers may thoroughly have pored over the voluminous proof of their possession—such as those received after their funding request—and identified numerous motives that a jury became unlikely to be persuaded by way of a declare of highbrow incapacity. After all, despite the fact that Reeves’ statistics advised that his intelligence become under common, additionally they indicated that he became now not intellectually disabled. E.g., 226 So. 3d, at 729. Counsel can also were concerned approximately the evidence of Reeves’ records of violence, crook past, and behavior issues, ibid., and concluded that presenting these characteristics along a complete-throated intellectual-incapacity argument would have satisfied the jury that Reeves “was virtually beyond rehabilitation,” Pinholster, 563 U. S., at 201. Or, suggest may additionally have exposed additional evidence confirming their concerns approximately an intellectual-disability strategy. Perhaps Reeves knowledgeable them, as he later did Dr. King, that he became savvy sufficient to earn lots of bucks per week in a drug- dealing operation wherein he had a management role. 226 So. 3d, at 736.
Or, suggest may properly have further investigated Dr. Goff and determined that his arguable methodologies would undermine credibility with a local jury—likely a prescient choice given that each unmarried courtroom to take into account the difficulty has rejected Reeves’ claim of intellectual incapacity. In truth, across the time that counsel had been formulating their trial method, Dr. Goff turned into already acting questionable critiques. See, e.g., King v. Apfel, 2000 WL 284217, *2 (SD Ala., Feb. 29, 2000) (Dr. Goff ’s 1996 evaluation of a Social Security claimant became “unsupported by means of the clinical evidence,” and “everything else within the report [was] counter to [his] severe findings” (emphasis added)); Small v. Apfel, 2000 WL 1844727, *three, n. 5 (SD Ala., Oct. 17, 2000) (“[Dr.] Goff ’s  conclusions regarding deficits in adaptive conduct are not best mere guesses . . . however also be afflicted by a lack of guide inside the file”). It isn't always unreasonable for a attorney to be worried approximately overreaching.
Simply positioned, if the attorneys were given the threat to testify, they may have pointed to data justifying the strategic selection to commit their time and efforts somewhere else. Yet, Reeves—probable pursuing a strategy of his personal—declined to put that testimonial proof earlier than the Alabama court. So for the reason that the Alabama court became entitled to reject Reeves’ claim if trial suggest had any “feasible reaso[n] . . . for proceeding as they did,” Pinholster, 563 U. S., at 196 (internal citation marks disregarded), it really turned into no longer obliged to just accept Reeves’ blanket declaration on an incomplete evidentiary file that “[n]o affordable approach should aid recommend’s failure,” ECF Doc. 23–29, at 81.
Rather than defer to this commonsense evaluation, the Eleventh Circuit took a direction that we have long foreclosed: “mischaracterization of the nation-court opinion.” Woodford, 537 U. S., at 22. As explained above, the Alabama court fairly concluded that the unfinished evidentiary record—which become substantially “silent as to the reasons trial counsel . . . chose not to rent Dr. Goff or every other neuropsychologist”—doomed Reeves’ belated efforts to 2d-guess his legal professionals. Reeves, 226 So. 3d, at 751. The Eleventh Circuit, but, recharacterized this case-precise evaluation as a “express rule” that any prisoner will usually lose if he fails to name and question “trial counsel concerning his or her movements and reasoning.” 836 Fed. Appx., at 744 (emphasis deleted; inner quotation marks left out).
We assume it clear from context that the Alabama court docket did now not observe a blanket rule, but as a substitute determined that the records of this case did now not merit alleviation. As an preliminary matter, the Alabama court docket twice diagnosed that there can be times of “per se deficient overall performance.” Reeves, 226 So. 3d, at 750–751. It virtually concluded that here, counsel’s preference concerning experts worried a strategic selection entitled to a presumption of reasonableness. Ibid. Moreover, other portions of the opinion’s lengthy recitation of the regulation (which the Eleventh Circuit overlooked) belie a express technique. In particular, the court docket two times said that it might keep in mind “ ‘all of the instances’ ” of the case, and it qualified its supposedly categorical rule by using explaining that “counsel have to frequently be afforded an possibility to explain his actions earlier than being denounced as ineffective.” Id., at 744, 747 (emphasis added; a few inner citation marks neglected).
Other components of the opinion yield the equal interpretation. For instance, the courtroom committed almost nine pages to discussing ineffective help of suggest. That would had been a curious choice for a “busy state cour[t]” if a single sentence making use of a consistent with se rule could have sufficed. Johnson v. Williams,
568 U. S. 289, 298 (2013) (country courts need not even “talk one by one every unmarried declare”). Within that lengthy discussion, the courtroom individually noted a lot of Reeves’ specific theories, consisting of his current intellectual-disability argument. Moreover, that the court in a footnote summarily rejected exceptional ineffective- assistance-of-counsel claims for procedural motives similarly weighs in opposition to imputing a in line with se rule for the theories that the court docket mentioned inside the frame of its opinion. Reeves, 226 So. 3d, at 749–750, n. sixteen.
Even greater critical, the actual analysis of the declare at trouble here reflects a case-precise approach. The courtroom did no longer simply say, as the Eleventh Circuit wrongly cautioned, that Reeves’ “ ‘failure to call his lawyers to testify was fatal to his claims.’ ” 836 Fed. Appx., at 744 (brackets neglected). Rather, the opinion prefaced this quote with an critical qualifier—“In this case.” Reeves, 226 So. 3d, at 749 (emphasis introduced). And sure sufficient, the courtroom proceeded to give an explanation for why Reeves could not be successful “in this example”—due to the fact “the document [was] silent as to the reasoning behind recommend’s actions.” Id., at 751 (inner quotation marks unnoticed). To make sure, the file on this particular case passed off to be deficient “due to the fact Reeves failed to name his recommend to testify.” Ibid. But, this unremarkable statement of reason and effect in mild of the information before the court docket changed into rarely an absolute bar in every case where other document proof would possibly fill within the details. And, it surely changed into no longer opposite to genuinely installed law given that this Court and the Eleventh Circuit have made the equal statement that a silent record cannot discharge a prisoner’s burden. E.g., Titlow, 571 U. S., at 15, 22–24; Grayson v. Thompson, 257 F. 3d 1194, 1218 (CA11 2001) (noting that “the document [was] silent as to why trial counsel did not pursue a movement to suppress the evidence,” and that “habeas counsel did no longer inquire as to trial counsel’s motives for no longer elevating this sort of declare”).
* * *
For the foregoing reasons, we provide the petition for a writ of certiorari, opposite the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remand the case for complaints regular with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice Breyer dissents.