Habeas grant to Pennslyvania death row inmate
Posted on: 6/1/2013 04:01:15 PM by Peoples

On November 28, 2012, United States District Court Judge Joyner of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a memorandum and order finding that Roger Judge was entitled to sentencing relief on two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and also ordered an evidentiary hearing on Judge's claim that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to raise a Batson challenge during jury selection.  Judge v. Beard, 2012 WL 5960643 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 29, 2012).  Judge Joyner had previously found that Judge was entitled to sentencing relief due to error under Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988)

 The first ineffectiveness claim concerned trial counsel's failure to request that the jury be instructed that a "life" sentence meant that Judge could not receive parole after the jury expressly asked about the meaning of a "life" sentence.  Without an objection from counsel, the trial court responded to the inquiry by instructing the jury not to decide the sentence based on how long Judge would be in jail or what life imprisonment meant.  As for deficient performance, Judge Joyner concluded: "the trial judge's statement that 'it is not for any of us to consider "life" or what it means' was . . . sufficiently misleading to have dictated an objection from defense counsel based on prevailing professional norms."  Regarding prejudice, Judge Joyner ruled: "in view of the jury's specific request for a clarifying instruction, we find it to be reasonably probable that had defense counsel objected to the trial court's response and had the trial court explained that Petitioner was not eligible for parole by virtue of his first degree murder conviction, he would have received a sentence of life imprisonment in lieu of death." 

Judge Joyner also found that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to develop and present at the sentencing phase evidence of Judge's dysfunctional background and mental illness. The only witness called by trial counsel was Judge's mother who testified that Judge was a good son and a good father to his young daughter.  It appeared from the record that trial counsel failed to conduct any investigation into Judge's background or mental health.  Had counsel looked into Judge's background, he would have been able to present evidence concerning Judge's "almost life-long history of isolation and loneliness, moodiness, and irrational and peculiar behavior."  The jury could also have learned of Judge's difficulties in school, both academically and socially and how his mother was over-bearing and controlling, criticizing and belittling Judge.  Judge was described as having an odd nature, being extremely immature and having an abnormal dependence on his mother.  Judge had no relationship with his biological father while his adoptive step-father, who drank heavily, took no interest in him and was not involved with his life.  Had counsel investigated Judge's criminal history, which was used as aggravation, counsel would have discovered past psychiatric evaluations with diagnoses, inter alia, of Schizhoid Personality Disorder, Mixed Character Disorder with strong passive-aggressive features, Paranoid Personality Disorder and Anti-social Personality Disorder.  Had counsel pursued a mental heath evaluation, he would have been able to present testimony that as a result of Judge's Schizotypal Personality Disorder, his "thought process is significantly disorganized, he is paranoid, he cannot make rational judgments without the assistance of others who are rational, and he has such a distorted view of reality that he can not appreciate the consequences of his behavior."  Given the mitigating evidence that counsel failed to discover, confidence in the sentencing verdict was undermined.