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ROMPILLA v. BEARD, SECRETARY, PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, 545 U.S. ---

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ROMPILLA v. BEARD, SECRETARY, PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

No. 04-5462.Argued January 18, 2005--Decided June 20, 2005

Petitioner Rompilla was convicted of murder and other crimes. During the penalty phase, the jury found the aggravating factors that the murder was committed during a felony, that it was committed by torture, and that Rompilla had a significant history of felony convictions indicating the use or threat of violence. In mitigation, five members of Rompilla's family beseeched the jury for mercy. He was sentenced to death, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. His new lawyers filed for state postconviction relief, claiming ineffective assistance by his trial counsel in failing to present significant mitigating evidence about Rompilla's childhood, mental capacity and health, and alcoholism. The state courts found that trial counsel had sufficiently investigated the mitigation possibilities. Rompilla then raised inadequate representation in a federal habeas petition. The District Court found that the State Supreme Court had unreasonably applied Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, concluding that trial counsel had not investigated obvious signs that Rompilla had a troubled childhood and suffered from mental illness and alcoholism, unjustifiably relying instead on Rompilla's own description of an unexceptional background. In reversing, the Third Circuit found nothing unreasonable in the state court's application of Strickland, given defense counsel's efforts to uncover mitigation evidence from Rompilla, certain family members, and three mental health experts. The court distinguished Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U. S. 510--in which counsel had failed to investigate adequately to the point of ignoring the leads their limited enquiry yielded--noting that, although trial counsel did not unearth useful information in Rompilla's school, medical, police, and prison records, their investigation had gone far enough to give them reason to think that further efforts would not be a wise use of their limited resources.

Held: Even when a capital defendant and his family members have suggested that no mitigating evidence is available, his lawyer is bound to make reasonable efforts to obtain and review material that counsel knows the prosecution will probably rely on as evidence of aggravation at the trial's sentencing phase. Pp. 4-18.


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