United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Patti B. Saris, United States District Judge.
Francis Lang was convicted of first-degree murder based on a
theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty in connection with the
2005 fatal stabbing of Richard T. Dever. The Massachusetts
Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) unanimously denied
post-conviction relief, rejecting Lang's claim of
ineffective assistance of counsel. Commonwealth v.
Lang, 38 N.E.3d 262, 264 (Mass. 2015). Lang now
petitions for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §
2254. He argues that his trial counsel was ineffective by
failing to investigate Lang's mental health history
although counsel was put on notice that Lang suffered from
several mental health conditions. Lang's medical history
reflects diagnoses for bipolar disorder, anxiety, a seizure
disorder, and learning disabilities.
Court assumes familiarity with Magistrate Judge Dein's
thorough Report & Recommendation [Dkt. No. 43] and does
not repeat the facts of the case or each argument raised by
the parties here. After hearing, the Court
DENIES Lang's petition for
habeas corpus relief [Dkt. No. 1].
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(“AEDPA”), federal habeas corpus relief
“shall not be granted with respect to any claim that
was adjudicated on the merits in State court
proceedings” unless the state court's adjudication
of the claim:
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C § 2254(d). A reviewing court “must
determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . could
have supported the state court's decision” and
then the court must decide whether “fairminded jurists
could disagree” that those arguments are consistent
with prior Supreme Court decisions. Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011).
claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is analyzed under
the familiar two-prong test from Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The first prong,
deficient performance, asks “whether an attorney's
representation amounted to incompetence under
‘prevailing professional norms.'”
Richter, 562 U.S. at 105 (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690). The second prong,
prejudice, requires the petitioner to show “that there
is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at
694. While a petitioner “must prove both prongs to
prevail . . . ‘a reviewing court need not address both
requirements if the evidence as to either is
lacking.'” Malone v. Clarke, 536 F.3d 54,
64 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Sleeper v. Spencer, 510
F.3d 32, 39 (1st Cir. 2007)).
issued a unanimous decision denying Lang's claim of
ineffective assistance of counsel but the five justices were
split on their reasoning. Lang, 38 N.E.3d at 264-65.
This Court begins with the opinion authored by Justice Lenk,
which commanded a majority of justices, as the decision of
held that the failure of Lang's trial attorney to
investigate Lang's mental health history constituted
deficient performance but concluded Lang did not suffer
prejudice as a result. Id. at 277-78. Assuming
without deciding that counsel's failure to investigate
constitutes deficient performance, this Court concludes that
it was reasonable for the SJC to decide “the result of
the proceeding” would not have been different absent
that “unprofessional error.” See
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. After review of the
arguments that “supported or . . . could have
supported the state court's decision, ” the Court
holds that the SJC's decision passes muster under
AEDPA's deferential standard. See Richter, 562
U.S. at 102.
trial counsel testified in post-conviction proceedings that,
even if he had investigated Lang's mental health history,
he would still have chosen not to present any mental health
defense. Lang, 38 N.E.3d at 272 n.15. Counsel, who
had extensive experience in homicide cases, believed that a
mental health defense would undermine or at least dilute the
viable complete defense of self-defense. Id. at 270,
272. The minority opinion of the SJC, authored by Justice
Hines, agreed that it was reasonable for counsel to forgo a
mental health defense in favor of self-defense, relying on
Massachusetts cases that upheld similar tactical decisions.
Id. at 274 (citing Commonwealth v. Spray, 5
N.E.3d 891, 905 (Mass. 2014); Commonwealth v.