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Name: Thornell v. Jones
Case #: 22–982
Court: US Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 05/30/2024
Summary

A prejudice showing for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of a capital case requires a petitioner to show that absent counsel’s errors, the sentencer would have concluded that the balance of aggravating and mitigating circumstances did not warrant the death sentence. Jones was convicted in Arizona of the premeditated first-degree murders of two victims and the attempted premeditated murder of a third victim. He was sentenced to death. The Ninth Circuit granted habeas relief finding that there was a reasonable probability that Jones would not have received a death sentence if mitigating evidence of his mental health, substance abuse, and brain injury had been presented at sentencing. SCOTUS reversed and reinstated the death sentence. Under Strickland, Jones can show prejudice only if there is a reasonable probability that, absent counsel’s errors, the sentencer would have concluded that the balance of aggravating and mitigating circumstances did not warrant death. The Ninth Circuit erred because the mitigating evidence Jones presented would barely have altered the sentencing profile presented to the sentencing judge and thus was insufficient to show prejudice. Justice Sotomayor dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Kagan, and Justice Jackson dissented separately.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/23pdf/22-982_bq7d.pdf