Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 16 (2003)

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

Opinion of the Court

to the court at sentencing. . . . Investigation is essential to fulfillment of these functions").

The scope of their investigation was also unreasonable in light of what counsel actually discovered in the DSS records. The records revealed several facts: Petitioner's mother was a chronic alcoholic; Wiggins was shuttled from foster home to foster home and displayed some emotional difficulties while there; he had frequent, lengthy absences from school; and, on at least one occasion, his mother left him and his siblings alone for days without food. See Lodging of Petitioner 54-95, 126, 131-136, 140, 147, 159-176. As the Federal District Court emphasized, any reasonably competent attorney would have realized that pursuing these leads was necessary to making an informed choice among possible defenses, particularly given the apparent absence of any aggravating factors in petitioner's background. 164 F. Supp. 2d, at 559. Indeed, counsel uncovered no evidence in their investigation to suggest that a mitigation case, in its own right, would have been counterproductive, or that further investigation would have been fruitless; this case is therefore distinguishable from our precedents in which we have found limited investigations into mitigating evidence to be reasonable. See, e. g., Strickland, supra, at 699 (concluding that counsel could "reasonably surmise . . . that character and psychological evidence would be of little help"); Burger v. Kemp, 483 U. S. 776, 794 (1987) (concluding counsel's limited investigation was reasonable because he interviewed all witnesses brought to his attention, discovering little that was helpful and much that was harmful); Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U. S. 168, 186 (1986) (concluding that counsel engaged in extensive preparation and that the decision to present a mitigation case would have resulted in the jury hearing evidence that petitioner had been convicted of violent crimes and spent much of his life in jail). Had counsel investigated further, they might well have discovered the sexual abuse later revealed during state postconviction proceedings.


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