Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 12 (2000)

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

Opinion of the Court

and he rejected the argument that counsel's failure to conduct an adequate investigation had been a strategic decision to rely almost entirely on the fact that Williams had voluntarily confessed.

According to Williams' trial counsel's testimony before the state habeas court, counsel did not fail to seek Williams' juvenile and social services records because he thought they would be counterproductive, but because counsel erroneously believed that " 'state law didn't permit it.' " App. 470. Counsel also acknowledged in the course of the hearings that information about Williams' childhood would have been important in mitigation. And counsel's failure to contact a potentially persuasive character witness was likewise not a conscious strategic choice, but simply a failure to return that witness' phone call offering his service. Id., at 470-471. Finally, even if counsel neglected to conduct such an investigation at the time as part of a tactical decision, the District Judge found, tactics as a matter of reasonable performance could not justify the omissions.

Turning to the prejudice issue, the judge determined that there was " 'a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.' Strickland, 466 U. S. at 694." Id., at 473. He found that the Virginia Supreme Court had erroneously assumed that Lockhart had modified the Strickland standard for determining prejudice, and that it had made an important error of fact in discussing its finding of no preju-dice.5 Having introduced his analysis of Williams' claim

was borderline mentally retarded, though he was found competent to stand trial." App. 465-469.

5 "Specifically, the Virginia Supreme Court found no prejudice, reasoning: 'The mitigation evidence that the prisoner says, in retrospect, his trial counsel should have discovered and offered barely would have altered the profile of this defendant that was presented to the jury. At most, this evidence would have shown that numerous people, mostly relatives, thought that defendant was nonviolent and could cope very well in a structured environment.' Williams, 487 S. E. 2d at 200. The Virginia Su-


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