Opinions Relating to Orders - 2018

Lance v. Sellers

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR, with whom JUSTICE GINSBURG and JUSTICE KAGAN join, dissenting from denial of certiorari. Before deciding that petitioner Donnie Cleveland Lance should die as punishment for two murders he committed, a jury heard no evidence whatsoever to counterbalance the State’s case for the death penalty. Lance’s counsel bore responsibility for the one-sidedness of the sentencing proceedings; he inexcusably failed even to look into, much less to put on, a case for sparing Lance’s life. And we have since learned that Lance suffers from significant cognitive impairments that the jury could have weighed in assessing his moral culpability. In other words, there is a meaningful case to be made for sparing Lance’s life, but— because he lacked access to constitutionally adequate counsel—he has never had a chance to present it. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that this state of affairs was constitutionally tolerable because, in its view, Lance’s untold story stood no chance of persuading even a single juror to favor life without parole over a death sentence. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that its conclusion was not unreasonable. I cannot agree. Our precedents clearly establish that Lance was prejudiced by his inability to inform the jury about his impairments. I therefore would grant Lance’s petition for review and summarily reverse.