Court Defines Test For Ineffective Counsel

1984

In Strickland v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court establishes a two-part test for deciding whether an attorney provided “effective” or “ineffective” assistance to a criminal defendant who is found guilty. First, the quality of the attorney’s actual performance must be assessed. This includes factors such as the attorney’s preparation for trial (such as whether he thoroughly learned the evidence and gathered all possible evidence for the defense) and second, the attorney’s conduct at the trial (such as whether he made the appropriate objections to certain evidence). It does not cover the tactical decisions that a defense attorney might make during trial (such as the order in which witnesses are put on the stand). Second, if the attorney’s conduct is judged to have been poor, it also is necessary to look at whether that poor conduct hurt the defendant’s case to the point where there is a “reasonable probability” that the outcome would have been different. If both parts of the test are not satisfied, then the counsel will be considered to have been effective, and the Sixth Amendment not violated.