Alleged Lawyer's Failure to Represent In Death Penalty Cases

In Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 156 L. Ed. 2d 471, 123 S. Ct. 2527 (2003), the United States Supreme Court readdressed the standard for assessing whether counsel is ineffective for failing to present mitigation evidence in death cases. The Court stated that the principal concern in deciding whether counsel exercised "reasonable professional judgment," is not whether counsel should have presented a mitigation case. Rather, the focus is on whether the investigation supporting counsel's decision not to introduce mitigating evidence of Wiggins' background was itself reasonable. In assessing counsel's investigation, the Court must conduct an objective review of their performance, measured for "reasonableness under prevailing professional norms," which includes a context-dependent consideration of the challenged conduct as seen "from counsel's perspective at the time," Strickland, at 689 ("Every effort must be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight").539 U.S. at 522-23. Relying on the American Bar Association guidelines, the Court in Wiggins noted that efforts should be made to discover available mitigating evidence and evidence to rebut any aggravating evidence, from such sources as "medical history, educational history, employment and training history, family and social history, prior adult and juvenile correctional experience, and religious and cultural influences." Id. at 524.