“A World of Steel-Eyed Death”: An Empirical Evaluation of the Failure of the Strickland Standard to Ensure Adequate Counsel to Defendants with Mental Disabilities Facing the Death Penalty

First, we discuss the background of the development of counsel adequacy in death penalty cases. Next, we look carefully at Strickland, and the subsequent Supreme Court cases that appear—on the surface—to bolster it in this context. We then consider multiple jurisprudential filters that we believe must be taken seriously if this area of the law is to be given any authentic meaning. Next, we will examine and interpret the data that we have developed. Finally, we will look at this entire area of law through the filter of therapeutic jurisprudence, and then explain why and how the charade of “adequacy of counsel law” fails miserably to meet the standards of this important school of thought.

Our title comes, in part, from Bob Dylan’s song, Shelter from the Storm. As one of the authors (MLP) has previously noted in another article drawing on that song’s lyrics, “[i]n a full-length book about that album, the critics Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard characterize the song as depicting a ‘mythic image of torment.’” The defendants in the cases we write about—by and large, defendants with profound mental disabilities who face the death penalty in large part because of the inadequacy of their legal representation— confront (and are defeated by) a world of ‘steel-eyed death.’ We hope that this Article helps change these realities.