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The Impact of War: Failure to Adduce Evidence of PTSD Amounts to Sixth Amendment Violation

In an released Monday, the Supreme Court overturned the Eleventh Circuit, holding that an attorney’s failure to adduce evidence of Korean War Veteran George Porter’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during the penalty phase of Porter’s trial violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.  A brief summary of the holding is available here.

In the , the justices noted a history of family abuse, stating that “Porter’s father was violent .  .  . and .  .  . Porter was his father’s favorite target, particularly when Porter tried to protect his mother.”  The court also noted that “Porter’s father [had] shot at him for coming home late, but missed and just beat Porter instead.”

These experiences coupled, with the brutal effect of conflict in the Korean War, took their toll on Porter.  His commanding officer, Colonel Pratt, testified at Porter’s post-conviction proceedings that Porter went AWOL twice in Korea and that such behavior was not uncommon as soldiers become disoriented and separated from their unit.  Colonel Pratt also testified that “an awful lot of [veterans] come back nervous wrecks.  Our [veterans’] hospitals today are filled with people mentally trying to survive the perils and hardships [of] . . . the Korean War”.

Holding that had defense counsel presented the jury with the evidence of Porter’s traumatized past, the jury would have, with “reasonable probability” changed the results of Porter’s proceedings, the Court struck down the 11th Circuit and Porter’s death sentence, remanding the case to the lower court.

See here for an article by the L.A. Times and here for an interesting discussion on the Veteran Adminstration’s role in Porter’s case and others like it.


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