Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 24 (2003)

Page:   Index   Previous  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  Next

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

Opinion of the Court

Counsel's failure to include in the proffer the powerful evidence of repeated sexual abuse is therefore explicable only if we assume that counsel had no knowledge of the abuse.

Contrary to the dissent's claim, see post, at 547, we are not accusing Schlaich of lying. His statements at the postconviction proceedings that he knew of this abuse, as well as of the hand-burning incident, may simply reflect a mistaken memory shaped by the passage of time. After all, the state postconviction proceedings took place over four years after Wiggins' sentencing. Ultimately, given counsel's likely ignorance of the history of sexual abuse at the time of sentencing, we cannot infer from Schlaich's postconviction testimony that counsel looked further than the PSI and the DSS records in investigating petitioner's background. Indeed, the record contains no mention of sources other than those it is undisputed counsel possessed, see supra, at 523-524. We therefore conclude that counsel's investigation of petitioner's background was limited to the PSI and the DSS records.


In finding that Schlaich and Nethercott's investigation did not meet Strickland's performance standards, we emphasize that Strickland does not require counsel to investigate every conceivable line of mitigating evidence no matter how unlikely the effort would be to assist the defendant at sentencing. Nor does Strickland require defense counsel to present mitigating evidence at sentencing in every case. Both conclusions would interfere with the "constitutionally protected independence of counsel" at the heart of Strickland. 466 U. S., at 689. We base our conclusion on the much more limited principle that "strategic choices made after less than complete investigation are reasonable" only to the extent that "reasonable professional judgments support the limitations on investigation." Id., at 690-691. A decision not to investigate thus "must be directly assessed for reasonableness in all the circumstances." Id., at 691.


Page:   Index   Previous  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007