Death Penalty (Ineffective Assistance)Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362 (2000)02-18-2005John D. ClineIn applying the two-part standard for ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the court of appeals failed to recognize the unique features of capital sentencing proceedings, including defense counsel's responsibility to present mitigating evidence and the sentencer’s inherently subjective consideration of that evidence. To ensure that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of effective assistance of counsel has meaning at the penalty phase of capital cases, the Court should make clear that, for purposes of the prejudice requirement, a "reasonable probability" of a different outcome exists whenever defense counsel fails to present significant mitigating evidence without a sound tactical basis, at least in the absence of overwhelming aggravating evidence. The court of appeals compounded its erroneous application of the prejudice requirement by holding that Lockhart v. Fretwell (1993) requires a defendant alleging ineffective assistance of counsel to show both a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different, and that the result of the proceeding was unfair or unreliable. In fact, that case addressed the narrow circumstances presented--counsel's failure to raise a legal point that had merit at the time of trial but had been overruled by the time of the habeas proceeding--and did not purport to heighten the burden of a capital defendant seeking to establish prejudice under Strickland . The court of appeal’s interpretation threatens to weaken the protections of the Sixth Amendment and to undermine the reliability of capital sentencing proceedings.
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