Williams v Taylor, 988384

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtStevens
Citation120 S.Ct. 1495,146 L.Ed.2d 389,529 U.S. 362
Decision Date18 April 2000
Docket Number988384
PartiesTERRY WILLIAMS, PETITIONER v. JOHN TAYLOR, WARDENSupreme Court of the United States

TERRY WILLIAMS, PETITIONER
v.
JOHN TAYLOR, WARDEN

No. 98-8384.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued October 4, 1999

Decided April 18, 2000

Syllabus

A Virginia jury convicted petitioner Williams of robbery and capital murder, and, after a sentencing hearing, found a probability of future dangerousness and unanimously fixed his punishment at death. Concluding that such punishment was "proper" and "just," the trial judge imposed the death sentence. The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed. In state habeas corpus proceedings, the same trial judge found, on the evidence adduced after hearings, that Williams' conviction was valid, but that his counsel's failure to discover and present significant mitigating evidence violated his right to the effective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668. In rejecting the trial judge's recommendation that Williams be resentenced, the State Supreme Court held, inter alia, that the trial judge had failed to recognize that Strickland had been modified by Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U. S. 364, 369, and that Williams had not suffered sufficient prejudice to warrant relief. In habeas corpus proceedings under 28 U. S. C. 2254, the federal trial judge agreed with the state trial judge that the death sentence was constitutionally infirm on ineffective-assistance grounds. The federal judge identified five categories of mitigating evidence that counsel had failed to introduce and rejected the argument that such failure had been a strategic decision to rely primarily on the fact that Williams had confessed voluntarily. As to prejudice, the judge determined, among other things, that there was a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different, see Strickland, 466 U. S., at 694. Applying an amended version of 2254(d)(1) enacted in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), the judge concluded that the Virginia Supreme Court's decision "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." The Fourth Circuit reversed, construing 2254(d)(1) to prohibit federal habeas relief unless the state court had interpreted or applied the relevant precedent in a manner that reasonable jurists would all agree is unreasonable. The court declared that it could not say that the Virginia Supreme Court's decision on prejudice was an unreasonable application of the Strickland or Lockhart standards established by the Supreme Court.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. 163 F. 3d 860, reversed and remanded.

Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court as to Parts I, III, and IV, concluding that Williams was denied his constitutionally guaranteed right to the effective assistance of counsel, as defined in Strickland, when his trial lawyers failed to investigate and to present substantial mitigating evidence to the sentencing jury. Pp. 25-34.

(a) The threshold question under AEDPA--whether Williams seeks to apply a rule of law that was clearly established at the time his state-court conviction became final--is easily answered because the merits of his claim are squarely governed by Strickland. To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant must prove: (1) that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, 466 U. S., at 688; and (2) that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense, which requires a showing that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different, id., at 694. Because the Strickland test qualifies as "clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court," this Court's precedent "dictated" that the Virginia Supreme Court apply that test in entertaining Williams' ineffective-assistance claim. See Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288, 301. Pp. 25-27.

(b) Williams is entitled to relief because the Virginia Supreme Court's decision rejecting his ineffective-assistance claim is both "contrary to, [and] involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law." Strickland provides sufficient guidance for resolving virtually all ineffective-assistance claims, and the Virginia Supreme Court erred in holding that Lockhart modified or in some way supplanted Strickland. Although there are a few situations in which the overriding focus on fundamental fairness may affect the analysis, see Strickland, 466 U. S., at 692, cases such as Lockhart and Nix v. Whiteside, 475 U. S. 157, do not justify a departure from a straightforward application of Strickland when counsel's ineffectiveness deprives the defendant of a substantive or procedural right to which the law entitles him. Here, Williams had a constitutionally protected right to provide mitigating evidence that his trial counsel either failed to discover or failed to offer. Moreover, the Virginia trial judge correctly applied both components of the Strickland standard to Williams' claim. The record establishes that counsel failed to prepare for sentencing until a week beforehand, to uncover extensive records graphically describing Williams' nightmarish childhood, to introduce available evidence that Williams was "borderline mentally retarded" and did not advance beyond sixth grade, to seek prison records recording Williams' commendations for helping to crack a prison drug ring and for returning a guard's missing wallet, and to discover the testimony of prison officials who described Williams as among the inmates least likely to act violently, dangerously, or provocatively, and of a prison minister that Williams seemed to thrive in a more regimented environment. Although not all of the additional evidence was favorable to Williams, the failure to introduce the comparatively voluminous amount of favorable evidence was not justified by a tactical decision and clearly demonstrates that counsel did not fulfill their ethical obligation to conduct a thorough investigation of Williams' background. Moreover, counsel's unprofessional service prejudiced Williams within Strickland`s meaning. The Virginia Supreme Court's prejudice analysis was unreasonable in at least two respects: (1) It was not only "contrary to," but also--inasmuch as it relied on the inapplicable Lockhart exception--an "unreasonable application of," the clear law as established in Strickland; and (2) it failed to evaluate the totality of, and to accord appropriate weight to, the available mitigation evidence. Pp. 27-34.

Justice O'Connor delivered the opinion of the Court as to Part II, concluding that 2254(d)(1) places a new constraint on the power of a federal habeas court to grant relief to a state prisoner with respect to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court: The habeas writ may issue only if the state-court adjudication (1) "was contrary to," or (2) "involved an unreasonable application of ..." clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Pp. 4-15.

(a) Because Williams filed his petition in 1997, his case is not governed by the pre-1996 version of the federal habeas statute, but by the statute as amended by AEDPA. Accordingly, for Williams to obtain federal habeas relief, he must first demonstrate that his case satisfies the condition set by 2254(d)(1). That provision modifies the previously settled rule of independent federal review of state prisoners' habeas petitions in order to curb delays, to prevent "retrials" on federal habeas, and to give effect to state convictions to the extent possible under law. In light of the cardinal principle of statutory construction that courts must give effect, if possible, to every clause and word of a statute, this Court must give independent meaning to both the "contrary to" and "unreasonable application" clauses of 2254(d)(1). Given the commonly understood definitions of "contrary" as "diametrically different," "opposite in character or nature," or "mutually opposed," 2254(d)(1)'s first clause must be interpreted to mean that a federal habeas court may grant relief if the state court (1) arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law or (2) decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant relief if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case. Pp. 4-11.

(b) In defining what qualifies as an "unreasonable application of ... clearly established Federal law," the Fourth Circuit erred in holding that a state-court decision involves such an application only if the state court has applied federal law in a manner that reasonable jurists would all agree is unreasonable. That standard would tend to mislead federal habeas courts by focusing on a subjective inquiry. Rather, the federal court should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable. Cf. Wright v. West, 505 U. S. 277, 304. Although difficult to define, "unreasonable" is a common legal term familiar to federal judges. For present purposes, the most important point is that an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law. See, e.g., id., at 305. Because Congress specifically used the word "unreasonable," and not a term like "erroneous" or "incorrect," a federal habeas court may not grant relief simply because it concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable. Finally, the phrase...

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27581 practice notes
  • Detrich v. Ryan, No. 08–99001.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • May 2, 2012
    ...and not the dicta, of Supreme Court opinions as of the time of the state court adjudication on the merits. Terry Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000); Greene v. Fisher, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 38, 44–45, 181 L.Ed.2d 336 (2011). However, we can also ......
  • McCarns v. Dexter, No. EDCV 05-1047-SGL(RC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • January 28, 2008
    ...state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on"a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1523, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000); Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694, 122 S.Ct. 1843, 1850, 152 L.Ed.2d 914 (2002). "Under ......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • November 7, 2019
    ...are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives" at aPage 22 different result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). A state court's decision is an "unreasonable application" under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) if it "id......
  • Bell v. Howes, Case No. 2:06–CV–15086.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan
    • December 28, 2010
    ...objectively unreasonable.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520–21, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003) ( quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000) (internal quotes omitted)). Additionally, this Court must presume the correctness of state court ......
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27478 cases
  • Detrich v. Ryan, No. 08–99001.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • May 2, 2012
    ...and not the dicta, of Supreme Court opinions as of the time of the state court adjudication on the merits. Terry Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000); Greene v. Fisher, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 38, 44–45, 181 L.Ed.2d 336 (2011). However, we can also ......
  • McCarns v. Dexter, No. EDCV 05-1047-SGL(RC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • January 28, 2008
    ...state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on"a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1523, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000); Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694, 122 S.Ct. 1843, 1850, 152 L.Ed.2d 914 (2002). "Under ......
  • Vance v. Warden, Noble Corr. Inst., CASE NO. 2:19-CV-00687
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • November 7, 2019
    ...are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives" at aPage 22 different result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). A state court's decision is an "unreasonable application" under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) if it "id......
  • Bell v. Howes, Case No. 2:06–CV–15086.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan
    • December 28, 2010
    ...objectively unreasonable.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520–21, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003) ( quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000) (internal quotes omitted)). Additionally, this Court must presume the correctness of state court ......
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8 books & journal articles
  • THE REASONABLENESS OF THE 'REASONABLENESS' STANDARD OF HABEAS CORPUS REVIEW UNDER THE ANTITERRORISM AND EFFECTIVE DEATH PENALTY ACT OF 1996.
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    • March 22, 2022
    ...in Williams that an unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one." (citations omitted) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404 05, 407-08 (2000))); see also, e.g., Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. 43, 47 (2010) (per (117.) Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 663-64 (2004) ......
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    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-1, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...U.S. 652, 665–66 (2004) (granting relief under § 2254(d) only if state court denial was “objectively unreasonable”); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409 (2000) (same); Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 314–15 (1995) (granting review of constitutional claim only when based on “fundamental misc......
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    • March 1, 2022
    ...scholars who argue in favor of pre-plea disclosure requirements). (290.) Meyn, supra note 58, at 1091 n.i (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 396 (291.) Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686 (quoting Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 344 (1980)). (292.) Id. See generally Jenny Roberts, Too Litt......
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    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 24-4, December 2014
    • December 1, 2014
    ...v. Hall, 558 U.S. ___ (2010)Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149 (1990)Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510 (2003)Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000)Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 420 (2000)Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. ___ (2010)Wong v. Belmontes, 558 U.S. ___ (2009)Wood v. Allen, 130 S. Ct. 1942......
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