Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 9 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

ineffective assistance of counsel." App. to Pet. for Cert. 155a-156a.

The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of relief, concluding that trial counsel had made "a deliberate, tactical decision to concentrate their effort at convincing the jury" that appellant was not directly responsible for the murder. Wiggins v. State, 352 Md., at 608, 724 A. 2d, at 15. The court observed that counsel knew of Wiggins' unfortunate childhood. They had available to them both the presentence investigation (PSI) report prepared by the Division of Parole and Probation, as required by Maryland law, Md. Ann. Code, Art. 41, 4-609(d) (1988), as well as "more detailed social service records that recorded incidences of physical and sexual abuse, an alcoholic mother, placements in foster care, and borderline retardation." 352 Md., at 608-609, 724 A. 2d, at 15. The court acknowledged that this evidence was neither as detailed nor as graphic as the history elaborated in the Selvog report but emphasized that "counsel did investigate and were aware of appellant's background." Id., at 610, 724 A. 2d, at 16 (emphasis in original). Counsel knew that at least one uncontested mitigating factor—Wiggins' lack of prior convictions—would be before the jury should their attempt to disprove Wiggins' direct responsibility for the murder fail. As a result, the court concluded, Schlaich and Nethercott "made a reasoned choice to proceed with what they thought was their best defense." Id., at 611-612, 724 A. 2d, at 17.


In September 2001, Wiggins filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court. The trial court granted him relief, holding that the Maryland courts' rejection of his ineffective assistance claim "involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law." Wiggins v. Corcoran, 164 F. Supp. 2d 538, 557 (2001) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U. S. 362 (2000)). The court rejected the State's defense of counsel's "tactical" decision to " 'retry

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