The Supreme Court on Tuesday sent the case of a Mississippi death row inmate, Arthur Austin, back to lower courts so they can reassess his claim that he didn’t have effective counsel at his sentencing hearing.
Mr. Austin, 61, was convicted of the 1993 fatal shooting of Alvin McCrary, a Mississippi highway patrolman. Mr. Austin pleaded guilty, and in 1994 was sentenced to death.
Mr. Austin argued that his lawyer at the sentencing hearing was ineffective, partly because he didn’t inform him that he would die by lethal injection, and partly because he did not put him on notice that a new death sentence would be sought later if, as prosecutors said, Mr. Austin’s prison time was construed as a mitigating factor.
Tuesday’s decision was not a slap at Mr. Austin or the lawyer who he said mishandled his case. It meant the case can be reassessed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But the court did not endorse Mr. Austin’s claim.
“To the extent that the record suggests any underlying factual error,” the court said, “it rests on an argument that the trial judge erred by assuming no new sentence in the absence of factual support.”