Terry v. Stirling

Brief of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as Amici Curiae in Support of Appellant and Reversal.

Brief filed: 06/29/2020


Terry v. Stirling

4th Circuit Court of Appeals; Case No. 20-3

Prior Decision

Decision below 2019 WL 6716030 (D.S.C. Dec. 10, 2019)


The Sixth Amendment requires trial counsel to investigate mitigating factors in a death penalty case. The duty to investigate mitigating factors extends to investigating evidence of trauma and abuse. The duty to investigate abuse and trauma was well established when Terry was sentenced to death in 1997. The duty to ensure a constitutionally adequate social history investigation lies squarely with trial counsel. Trial counsel does not fulfill their Sixth Amendment obligations merely by hiring experts. Trial counsel is required to actively oversee the mitigation investigation. The decision below departs from that precedent. The district court erred in finding that trial counsel conducted an adequate investigation. The district court erred in attributing trial counsel’s errors to Terry’s experts. 


Marc Elias, Stephanie Command, and Courtney Elgart, Perkins Coie LLP, Washington, DC; Reina Almon-Griffin, Perkins Coie LLP, Seattle, WA; Allison Franz and John H. Blume, Cornell Capital Punishment Clinic, Ithaca, NY; David B. Smith, NACDL, Alexandria, VA.

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