Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 17 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

The record of the actual sentencing proceedings underscores the unreasonableness of counsel's conduct by suggesting that their failure to investigate thoroughly resulted from inattention, not reasoned strategic judgment. Counsel sought, until the day before sentencing, to have the proceedings bifurcated into a retrial of guilt and a mitigation stage. See supra, at 515. On the eve of sentencing, counsel represented to the court that they were prepared to come forward with mitigating evidence, App. 45, and that they intended to present such evidence in the event the court granted their motion to bifurcate. In other words, prior to sentencing, counsel never actually abandoned the possibility that they would present a mitigation defense. Until the court denied their motion, then, they had every reason to develop the most powerful mitigation case possible.

What is more, during the sentencing proceeding itself, counsel did not focus exclusively on Wiggins' direct responsibility for the murder. After introducing that issue in her opening statement, id., at 70-71, Nethercott entreated the jury to consider not just what Wiggins "is found to have done," but also "who [he] is." Id., at 70. Though she told the jury it would "hear that Kevin Wiggins has had a difficult life," id., at 72, counsel never followed up on that suggestion with details of Wiggins' history. At the same time, counsel called a criminologist to testify that inmates serving life sentences tend to adjust well and refrain from further violence in prison—testimony with no bearing on whether petitioner committed the murder by his own hand. Id., at 311-312. Far from focusing exclusively on petitioner's direct responsibility, then, counsel put on a halfhearted mitigation case, taking precisely the type of " 'shotgun' " approach the Maryland Court of Appeals concluded counsel sought to avoid. Wiggins v. State, 352 Md., at 609, 724 A. 2d, at 15. When viewed in this light, the "strategic decision" the state courts and respondents all invoke to justify counsel's limited pursuit of mitigating evidence resembles more a post hoc rationaliza-

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