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Capital Habeas Matter in Pierce v. Thaler

By FindLaw Staff on April 20, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Pierce v. Thaler, No. 08-70042, involved a capital habeas matter.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's order requiring petitioner to be resentenced, holding that an additional instruction on mitigating evidence was required because: 1) under clearly established federal law, the future dangerousness special issue provided a meaningful basis for the jury to consider and give effect to petitioner's youth (he had just turned 18 at the time of the killing) and his good behavior in prison; and 2) petitioner's evidence of being led astray by older boys and being locked up for a significant period of time had mitigating relevance beyond the special issues and therefore required an additional instruction.  Additionally, the court of appeals affirmed the district court's order denying all other relief, holding that the state habeas court was not unreasonable in determining that petitioner did not meet the Texas definition of a mentally retarded person.

As the court wrote:  "The petitioner-appellee, Anthony L. Pierce, was sentenced to death in 1986 in Texas state court for a murder committed during the course of a robbery in 1977. After exhausting his state-court avenues for postconviction relief in 2007, he sought habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in federal district court. The district court vacated Pierce's death sentence and ordered resentencing, finding that the statutory special issues presented to the jury at Pierce's sentencing did not permit the jury to give meaningful consideration and effect to all of Pierce's mitigating evidence, as Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), requires. The district court denied Pierce's other asserted bases for habeas relief and denied a certificate of appealability (COA). The State appealed the resentencing. Pierce, in turn, sought a COA from this court on six of the issues raised before the district court. We granted a COA as to two of those issues:  Whether Pierce received ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing, and whether Pierce was mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)."

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