Why Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims Can Be Difficult: The Strickland Test

Being convicted and sentenced for a federal crime is a serious event. However, it is not the end of the story. You can still appeal the outcome. One of the things that you can claim on appeal is that your trial attorney was to blame for you not being acquitted at trial, or for the sentence that ended up being handed down by the judge or jury. These cases, called ineffective assistance of counsel cases, are common, but are also difficult to win. This is due in large part to the high standard that the Supreme Court of the United States has created for ineffective assistance of counsel cases.

The Sixth Amendment and Your Right to Counsel

The Sixth Amendment guarantees your right to an attorney in a criminal case. While this is just one of the many rights that the Sixth Amendment guarantees, it is probably the one that is alluded to the most often.

Of course, guaranteeing your right to an attorney would be an empty promise if there were not some standard of competence for an attorney. Unfortunately, this is where the Supreme Court has weakened your Sixth Amendment rights. By lowering this bar, the Supreme Court has held this right to an attorney to be upheld in all by the most egregious circumstances.

The Strickland Test

The Supreme Court’s way of determining whether your Sixth Amendment right to an attorney was violated is by applying the test it set out in a case from 1984, Strickland v. Washington. In this case, David Washington was on trial for three murders and several other crimes. Over the course of the trial, Washington ignored his attorney’s advice and pled guilty to the crimes. His attorney then lost hope in the case, stopped working on gathering potentially important evidence, and elected to rely on Washington’s acceptance of responsibility for his crimes as an argument against the potential death penalty. The judge, however, ended up sentencing Washington to death.

The Supreme Court in Strickland started by saying that the Sixth Amendment did not just guarantee a right to counsel – it guaranteed a right to effective counsel. However, it found that the trial attorney was effective because he had not been shown to be deficient enough to deprive Washington of a fair trial. The Court focused on the fact that it was not unreasonable for the trial attorney to decide to rely on Washington’s acceptance of his responsibility for his crimes. In doing so, however, the Supreme Court sent a clear message – it is difficult for an attorney to fall below the level of effectiveness enough to satisfy the Sixth Amendment.

Federal Criminal Law Center Fights for Your Rights

Even though it involves such a low standard, appealing a conviction or sentence on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel is still a potentially worthwhile appeal to make. If you are interested in exploring this legal option, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center online to get the legal representation that you need.