Phillips v. White, No. 15-5629 (6th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Two victims were killed in 1999. Phillips was arrested. The primary witness was Phillips’ stepdaughter, a neighbor of the victim. She testified that she heard the confrontation, followed by shooting, and that Phillips was “intoxicated” that night. A jury convicted Phillips of both counts of first-degree murder. Judge Maricle asked whether the parties were prepared to proceed with sentencing. Phillips’s attorney, Charles, replied, “No,” but neglected to request a continuance, stating, "I don’t know anything about death penalty litigation.” Charles did not object to the prosecution's jury instructions, consulted with Phillips for less than an hour, and offered no opening statement nor evidence. The Commonwealth suggested that the aggravating factor prevented the jury from considering sentences with possible parol. Rather than clarifying the sentencing options or advocating for a particular sentence, Charles remarked: I don’t intend to take anymore of your time. The jury recommended life with no possibility of parole for 25 years. The court entered that sentence with minimal explanation. The state supreme court affirmed. Although Phillips's post-conviction attorney dropped a claim of ineffective assistance at sentencing, Maricle felt “compelled” to authorize relief on that basis. Phillips complied with Maricle's request and submitted information about evidence relevant sentencing, but Maricle was indicted and no state judge decided Phillips’s claims, which were pending for over six years. The district court dismissed his federal habeas petition, finding that Phillips had not shown prejudice. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the deferential standard is inapplicable because no Kentucky court ever decided Phillips's claims, that Phillips’s counsel was ineffective, that prejudice is presumed, and counsel’s performance actually prejudiced Phillips under Strickland.