Rompilla v. Beard - Oral Argument - January 18, 2005

Rompilla v. Beard

Media for Rompilla v. Beard

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 20, 2005 in Rompilla v. Beard

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 2005 in Rompilla v. Beard

John Paul Stevens:

We will now hear argument in Rompilla against Beard.

Mr. Nolas.

Billy H. Nolas:

Mr. Justice Stevens, and may it please the Court:

Profound mitigating evidence concerning Mr. Rompilla's life history was not heard by the capital sentencing jury in this case because his trial counsel did not secure a single scrap of paper about his life history.

As to the trial prosecutor, his argument, what he elicited from the defense witnesses, and what he presented affirmatively sent the message to this jury of future dangerousness.

When the jury inquired whether in Pennsylvania there is parole from a life sentence, they were not given the simple, straight answer that Pennsylvania law clearly indicates, no.

Instead, they were told... instead, their question was not answered.

What I would like to do, unless the Court has specific inquiries, is to make certain points about the ineffectiveness issue and then turn to the sentence issue.

As to the ineffectiveness issue, Your Honors, this Court has made very clear in Williams v. Taylor, in Wiggins v. Smith, reiterating the concept established originally in Strickland v. Washington, that a trial defense counsel has a duty to conduct a thorough investigation for mitigating evidence in a capital case.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, you're asking us, I suppose, to make a rule that you have to get paper records.

We've seen a number of capital cases, you know... as you know.

This counsel seemed to me to be quite articulate and... and had a very sound theory of... to argue to the jury for mitigation.

It didn't work, of course.

I... I just don't know what constitutional rule you want to ask us for, that you have to look at record evidence?

Billy H. Nolas:

We are not asking the Court to set a constitutional rule that a capital defense counsel must obtain records in every capital case.

We are asking this Court to apply the rule articulated in Strickland v. Washington itself where the Court indicated that counsel has a duty to make a reasonable investigation.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, you had three forensic experts, outside experts, and they didn't seem to think the papers were relevant either.

Billy H. Nolas:

Yes, Your Honor.

And as to the experts themselves... and that's actually... the experts and the family are the core of respondent's argument against Mr. Simmons' claim.

The simplest answer is to look at Wiggins v. Smith where this Court held very clearly that the retention of mental health experts sheds no light on the reasonableness of counsel's life history investigation.

That is especially appropriate in this case because in this case the counsel who had contact with the experts testified very clearly at the post-conviction hearing that the experts were never asked... never asked... to develop life history mitigating evidence.

And as my friend, Ms. Zapp, indicates in her brief at page 43, there was no tactical decision in this case by counsel to not pursue life history mitigating evidence.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, counsel... counsel did make use of several relatives of the defendant who testified.

I... I think weren't there about four relatives who testified?

Billy H. Nolas:

Yes, Your Honor, including his son.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And he talked to all of them and talked to the defendant as well.

So would a reasonable person think that's enough to find out family history and... and the concerns that you had?

Billy H. Nolas:

This Court made very clear in Strickland and Williams and in Wiggins that an assessment of counsel's representation must be done from counsel's perspective at the time.

Counsel's perspective at the time, as Ms. Dantos clearly testified at the hearing, was that the family were not good sources of information for petitioner's life history.

She gave three reasons for that.