Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 23 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

The State maintained at oral argument that Schlaich's reference to "other people's reports" indicated that counsel learned of the sexual abuse from sources other than the PSI and the DSS records. Tr. of Oral Arg. 31, 33, 35. But when pressed repeatedly to identify the sources counsel might have consulted, the State acknowledged that no written reports documented the sexual abuse and speculated that counsel must have learned of it through "[o]ral reports" from Wiggins himself. Id., at 36. Not only would the phrase "other people's reports" have been an unusual way for counsel to refer to conversations with his client, but the record contains no evidence that counsel ever pursued this line of questioning with Wiggins. See id., at 24-25. For its part, the United States emphasized counsel's retention of the psychologist. Id., at 51; Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 27. But again, counsel's decision to hire a psychologist sheds no light on the extent of their investigation into petitioner's social background. Though Stejskal based his conclusions on clinical interviews with Wiggins, as well as meetings with Wiggins' family members, Lodging of Petitioner, his final report discussed only petitioner's mental capacities and attributed nothing of what he learned to Wiggins' social history.

To further underscore that counsel did not know, prior to sentencing, of the sexual abuse, as well as of the other incidents not recorded in the DSS records, petitioner directs us to the content of counsel's October 17, 1989, proffer. Before closing statements and outside the presence of the jury, Schlaich proffered to the court the mitigation case counsel would have introduced had the court granted their motion to bifurcate. App. 349-351. In his statement, Schlaich referred only to the results of the psychologist's test and mentioned nothing of Wiggins' troubled background. Given that the purpose of the proffer was to preserve their pursuit of bifurcation as an issue for appeal, they had every incentive to make their mitigation case seem as strong as possible.

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