469 U.S. 956 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

ALVORD v. WAINWRIGHT , 469 U.S. 956 (1984)

469 U.S. 956

Gary Eldon ALVORD
Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections
No. 83-6807

Supreme Court of the United States

October 29, 1984

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

This petition asks us to consider whether an attorney renders effective assistance of counsel when he forgoes all investigation into his client's only plausible line of defense and defers to his client's wishes on defense strategy, without any regard for the client's knowledge of, or ability to understand, the law, the facts, or the ramifications of the decision.

The question could scarcely be more starkly posed. The petitioner here had previously been adjudicated insane at a criminal trial, and his reasoning faculties were therefore highly suspect. Yet appointed counsel accepted his client's initial refusal to rely on the insanity defense, made no independent investigation of his

Page 469 U.S. 956 , 957

client's mental or criminal history, learned no facts that would enable him to persuade his client to change his mind, and instead permitted his client to rely on an unsupported alibi that all acknowledged to have been, at best, weak. The lower court approved this course of conduct on the ground that the client was found competent to stand trial and therefore was entitled to have his wishes followed. Because I believe the lower court decision seriously misconstrues the constitutional role of a criminal defense lawyer, I would grant certiorari to review the decision.


The record demonstrates unequivocally that Gary Alvord has a long history of mental illness. He first entered a mental hospital at age 13. In 1967, he was charged in Michigan with rape and murder; he spent two years in a mental hospital and was then declared competent to stand trial. At a bench trial, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to the custody of the Michigan Department of Mental Health. After escaping from the Ionia State Hospital in Michigan, he traveled to Florida, where he committed the three murders for which he received the death sentence in Florida.

Counsel, a part-time public defender, was appointed to represent Alvord after his indictment in 1973. Alvord refused to talk to the lawyer ; instead, it was the prosecutor who told counsel that Alvord had been adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity in Michigan. Counsel moved for a mental examination, and two psychiatrists were directed to conduct the examination. Ultimately, the trial judge ruled that Alvord was competent to stand trial. [Footnote 1]

Appointed counsel saw Alvord for about 15 minutes after Alvord was indicted. Counsel's subsequent pretrial contact with his client was primarily at court hearings. According to the Court of Appeals, Alvord's counsel conducted no independent

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