Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 5 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

Justice O'Connor delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, Kevin Wiggins, argues that his attorneys' failure to investigate his background and present mitigating evidence of his unfortunate life history at his capital sentencing proceedings violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. In this case, we consider whether the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit erred in upholding the Maryland Court of Appeals' rejection of this claim.



On September 17, 1988, police discovered 77-year-old Florence Lacs drowned in the bathtub of her ransacked apartment in Woodlawn, Maryland. Wiggins v. State, 352 Md. 580, 585, 724 A. 2d 1, 5 (1999). The State indicted petitioner for the crime on October 20, 1988, and later filed a notice of intention to seek the death penalty. Two Baltimore County public defenders, Carl Schlaich and Michelle Nethercott, assumed responsibility for Wiggins' case. In July 1989, petitioner elected to be tried before a judge in Baltimore County

stein and Amy Howe; and for Janet F. Reno et al. by Robert S. Litt, Kathleen A. Behan, and John A. Freedman.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of California et al. by Bill Lockyer, Attorney General of California, Manuel M. Medeiros, State Solicitor General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Pamela C. Hamanaka, Senior Assistant Attorney General, and Kristofer Jorstad, A. Scott Hayward, and Donald E. De Nicola, Deputy Attorneys General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: William H. Pryor, Jr., of Alabama, Terry Goddard of Arizona, Ken Salazar of Colorado, Thurbert E. Baker of Georgia, Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Steve Carter of Indiana, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, Mike McGrath of Montana, Jon Bruning of Nebraska, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Jim Petro of Ohio, W. A. Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, D. Michael Fisher of Pennsylvania, Larry Long of South Dakota, Mark L. Shurtleff of Utah, Jerry W. Kilgore of Virginia, and Christine O. Gregoire of Washington; and for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation by Kent S. Scheidegger.

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