Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 10 (2003)

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

Opinion of the Court

guilt,' " concluding that for a strategic decision to be reasonable, it must be "based upon information the attorney has made after conducting a reasonable investigation." 164 F. Supp. 2d, at 558. The court found that though counsel were aware of some aspects of Wiggins' background, that knowledge did not excuse them from their duty to make a "fully informed and deliberate decision" about whether to present a mitigation case. In fact, the court concluded, their knowledge triggered an obligation to look further. Id., at 559.

Reviewing the District Court's decision de novo, the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that counsel had made a reasonable strategic decision to focus on petitioner's direct responsibility. Wiggins v. Corcoran, 288 F. 3d 629, 639-640 (2002). The court contrasted counsel's complete failure to investigate potential mitigating evidence in Williams, 288 F. 3d, at 640, with the fact that Schlaich and Nethercott knew at least some details of Wiggins' childhood from the PSI and social services records, id., at 641. The court acknowledged that counsel likely knew further investigation "would have resulted in more sordid details surfacing," but agreed with the Maryland Court of Appeals that counsel's knowledge of the avenues of mitigation available to them "was sufficient to make an informed strategic choice" to challenge petitioner's direct responsibility for the murder. Id., at 641-642. The court emphasized that conflicting medical testimony with respect to the time of death, the absence of direct evidence against Wiggins, and unexplained forensic evidence at the crime scene supported counsel's strategy. Id., at 641.

We granted certiorari, 537 U. S. 1027 (2002), and now reverse.



Petitioner renews his contention that his attorneys' performance at sentencing violated his Sixth Amendment right


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