Sixth Amendment protects the right for an accused to receive effective assistance of counsel in order to protect the adversary process. Therefore, the test to determine whether a violation of the Sixth Amendment occurred must rely on evidence that the adversary process itself suffered. Strickland v Washington Facts: Charged with capital murder in Florida, David Washington pleaded guilty and told the judge that he was under extreme stress at the time because of his inability to support his family. The judge sounded sympathetic, but Washington's defense counsel did not collect character evidence or request a psychiatric examination before the sentencing hearing. He made this decision so that the prosecution could not cross-examine Washington and use its own psychiatric report. He also did not seek a presentence report because he wanted to reduce the possibility that Washington's criminal record could be introduced, since this was related to an aggravating factor that would make the death penalty more likely. After the sentencing hearing, the trial judge found that the death penalty was appropriate because of the lack of mitigating factors and presence of several aggravating factors. Procedure: The sentence was affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court, Washington sought to argue that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel based on the decisions by his lawyer outlined above. He was denied at the trial level and by the state Supreme Court, so he then sought habeas corpus relief in federal court. However, the district court found that the lawyer's decisions, which they agreed were mistaken, did not materially affect the outcome in the case. In other words, there was no reason to think that Washington would not have received the death penalty if the lawyer had taken more steps in collecting evidence. Issue: Consider the proper standards for judging a criminal defendant’s contention that the Constitution requires a conviction or death sentence to be set aside because counsel’s assistance at the trial or sentencing was ineffective. Hold: The appropriate standard for ineffective assistance of counsel requires both that the defense attorney was objectively deficient and that there was a reasonable probability that a competent attorney would have led to a different outcome. On the other hand, the range of strategies available to lawyers is broad, and many justifiable options may be available at any given time. This means that courts should refrain from using hindsight to evaluate whether a decision was objectively deficient if it might have potentially
made sense at the time. Even if a decision is objectively deficient, moreover, prejudice cannot be presumed in most situations unless there is a conflict of interest. The defendant must show a reasonable probability that the outcome would have been different if not for the deficiency. In the context of a conviction, this means that the deficient representation prevented the jury from having a reasonable doubt. In the context of the sentencing phase of a capital trial, it
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- Fall '19
- Supreme Court of the United States, State supreme court, of counsel