In what may be her first noteworthy opinion for the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor -- a former prosecutor -- assessed whether a defendant's counsel was unconstitutionally ineffective. In Wood v. Allen, a defense attorney failed to further investigate or introduce evidence of the defendant's IQ being significantly below average. Writing for a 7-2 majority, Justice Sotomayor determined, "Even if it is debatable, it is not unreasonable to conclude that ... counsel made a strategic decision not to inquire further into the information contained in the report about Wood's mental deficiencies and not present to the jury such information." Accordingly, the Court upheld the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which had reinstated Mr. Holly Wood's death sentence.
As detailed in this preview of the case, Wood shot and killed his girlfriend while she slept. During his trial in an Alabama state court, Wood was represented by three lawyers. Of those three attorneys, one had just graduated from law school and was freshly sworn into the bar. It was this lawyer who, assigned to defend Wood during the sentencing phase of the trial, failed to investigate or introduce evidence of Wood's limited mental capacity.
Preliminary testing indicated that Wood's IQ was below 70, which is suggestive of a developmental disability. Without introduction of that mitigating evidence, the jury voted 10-2 to sentence Wood to death by electrocution -- Alabama's statutorily minimum vote for capital punishment.