Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 10 (2000)

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Cite as: 529 U. S. 362 (2000)

Opinion of the Court

that the same experts who had testified on the State's behalf at trial believed that Williams, if kept in a "structured environment," would not pose a future danger to society. Id., at 313-314.

Counsel's failure to discover and present this and other significant mitigating evidence was "below the range expected of reasonable, professional competent assistance of counsel." Id., at 424. Counsel's performance thus "did not measure up to the standard required under the holding of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984), and [if it had,] there is a reasonable probability that the result of the sentencing phase would have been different." Id., at 429. Judge Ingram therefore recommended that Williams be granted a rehearing on the sentencing phase of his trial.

The Virginia Supreme Court did not accept that recommendation. Williams v. Warden, 254 Va. 16, 487 S. E. 2d 194 (1997). Although it assumed, without deciding, that trial counsel had been ineffective, id., at 23-26, 487 S. E. 2d, at 198, 200, it disagreed with the trial judge's conclusion that Williams had suffered sufficient prejudice to warrant relief. Treating the prejudice inquiry as a mixed question of law and fact, the Virginia Supreme Court accepted the factual determination that available evidence in mitigation had not been presented at the trial, but held that the trial judge had misapplied the law in two respects. First, relying on our decision in Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U. S. 364 (1993), the court held that it was wrong for the trial judge to rely " 'on mere outcome determination' " when assessing prejudice, 254 Va., at 23, 487 S. E. 2d, at 198 (quoting Lockhart, 506 U. S., at 369). Second, it construed the trial judge's opinion as having "adopted a per se approach" that would establish prejudice whenever any mitigating evidence was omitted. 254 Va., at 26, 487 S. E. 2d, at 200.

The court then reviewed the prosecution evidence supporting the "future dangerousness" aggravating circumstance, reciting Williams' criminal history, including the sev-


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