Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 6 (2003)

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

Opinion of the Court

Circuit Court. Ibid. On August 4, after a 4-day trial, the court found petitioner guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and two counts of theft. App. 32.

After his conviction, Wiggins elected to be sentenced by a jury, and the trial court scheduled the proceedings to begin on October 11, 1989. On September 11, counsel filed a motion for bifurcation of sentencing in hopes of presenting Wiggins' case in two phases. Id., at 34. Counsel intended first to prove that Wiggins did not act as a "principal in the first degree," ibid.i. e., that he did not kill the victim by his own hand. See Md. Ann. Code, Art. 27, 413 (1996) (requiring proof of direct responsibility for death eligibility). Counsel then intended, if necessary, to present a mitigation case. In the memorandum in support of their motion, counsel argued that bifurcation would enable them to present each case in its best light; separating the two cases would prevent the introduction of mitigating evidence from diluting their claim that Wiggins was not directly responsible for the murder. App. 36-42, 37.

On October 12, the court denied the bifurcation motion, and sentencing proceedings commenced immediately thereafter. In her opening statement, Nethercott told the jurors they would hear evidence suggesting that someone other than Wiggins actually killed Lacs. Id., at 70-71. Counsel then explained that the judge would instruct them to weigh Wiggins' clean record as a factor against a death sentence. She concluded: " 'You're going to hear that Kevin Wiggins has had a difficult life. It has not been easy for him. But he's worked. He's tried to be a productive citizen, and he's reached the age of 27 with no convictions for prior crimes of violence and no convictions, period. . . . I think that's an important thing for you to consider.' " Id., at 72. During the proceedings themselves, however, counsel introduced no evidence of Wiggins' life history.

Before closing arguments, Schlaich made a proffer to the court, outside the presence of the jury, to preserve bifurca-


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