Woodford v. Visciotti

PETITIONER: Jeanne Woodford, Warden
RESPONDENT: John Louis Visciotti
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 02-137
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 537 US 19 (2002)
DECIDED: Nov 04, 2002
GRANTED: Nov 04, 2002

Facts of the case

On November 8, 1982, John Louis Visciotti and his co-worker attempted to rob two fellow employees while driving together to a party. Visciotti asked the driver to stop the car in a remote area, pulled out a gun, and demanded the victims’ wallets. Because the victims had little money in their wallets, Visciotti located the money in the car and then shot the victims. Visciotti was convicted of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and robbery. The jury recommended the death penalty since the homicide took place during a robbery with a deadly weapon.

Visciotti petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus from the California Supreme Court and claimed that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The California Supreme Court denied the petition and held that, although Visciotti received ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase of his trial, the jury was not prejudiced. The state court interpreted the Supreme Court’s ineffective assistance of counsel precedent as requiring the defendant to show that, more likely than not, the outcome of the trial would have been different had it not been for the ineffective assistance of counsel. Visciotti then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus from the federal district court, which granted the petition and determined that Visciotti had received ineffective assistance of counsel. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Question

Was a state court’s application of the Supreme Court’s ineffective assistance of counsel precedent as requiring the defendant to show prejudice by a preponderance of the evidence objectively unreasonable?