Opinions Relating to Orders - 2021

Canales v. Lumpkin

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR, dissenting from the denial of certiorari.

A jury sentenced Anibal Canales, Jr., to death without hearing any meaningful evidence about why life in prison might be punishment enough. The mitigating evidence put on by Canales’ counsel was so thin that the prosecutor remarked in closing that it was “‘an incredibly sad tribute that when a man’s life is on the line, about the only good thing we can say about him is he’s a good artist.’” Canales v. Davis, 966 F. 3d 409, 417 (CA5 2020) (Higginbotham, J., dissenting) (Canales II). In reality, whether to sentence Canales to death was a far more complicated question. Competent counsel would have told the jury of “a tragic childhood rife with violence, sexual abuse, poverty, neglect, and homelessness”; of Canales’ kindness to his mother and sisters; and “of a man beset by PTSD, a failing heart, and the dangers of prison life” when he committed the crime for which he was sentenced to die. Ibid. The jury had no chance to balance this humanizing evidence against the State’s case.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit nonetheless held that defense counsel’s deficient performance did not prejudice Canales. In the majority’s view, the State’s case was so weighty that this mitigating evidence would have made no difference. T