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in a 7-2 decision, the justices reversed a ruling by the 4th Circuit that held that in a case in which the strategic decisions of trial counsel were reasonable, a capital defendant was not entitled to habeas relief on grounds of ineffective assistance. Wiggins v. Smith, No. 02-311. According to the court, the performance of the defendant’s attorneys at his sentencing violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. The attorneys had failed to present mitigating evidence about their client though he had the kind of troubled history that is relevant to the assessment of moral culpability. “[H]ad the jury been confronted with this considerable mitigating evidence, there is a reasonable probability that it would have returned with a different sentence,” O’Connor wrote. Her opinion was joined by Rehnquist, Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Scalia’s dissent was joined by Thomas.

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