Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 4 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 510 (2003)


thus has the kind of troubled history relevant to assessing a defendant's moral culpability. Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U. S. 302, 319. Given the nature and extent of the abuse, there is a reasonable probability that a competent attorney, aware of this history, would have introduced it at sentencing, and that a jury confronted with such mitigating evidence would have returned with a different sentence. The only significant mitigating factor the jury heard was that Wiggins had no prior convictions. Had it been able to place his excruciating life history on the mitigating side of the scale, there is a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have struck a different balance. Wiggins had no record of violent conduct that the State could have introduced to offset this powerful mitigating narrative. Thus, the available mitigating evidence, taken as a whole, might well have influenced the jury's appraisal of his moral culpability. Pp. 534-538.

288 F. 3d 629, reversed and remanded.

O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined, post, p. 538.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Ian Heath Gershengorn and Lara M. Flint.

Gary E. Bair, Solicitor General of Maryland, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General, and Kathryn Grill Graeff and Ann N. Bosse, Assistant Attorneys General.

Dan Himmelfarb argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Olson, Assistant Attorney General Chertoff, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Robert J. Erickson.*

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Bar Association by Alfred P. Carlton, Lawrence J. Fox, David J. Kessler, and Robin M. Maher; for the Constitution Project by Virginia E. Sloan and Stephen F. Hanlon; for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. by David A. Reiser, Eleanor H. Smith, and Lisa B. Kemler; for the National Association of Social Workers et al. by Thomas C. Gold-


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