What Does Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Mean?

Posted on Thursday, October 31st, 2019 at 10:53 am    

gavel and scale highlighting ineffective assistance of counsel

If your criminal defense lawyer is in over their head or incompetent, you could be convicted where an acquittal or dismissal was possible or even likely. That’s why courts in the United States allow criminal defendants to claim ineffective assistance of counsel–either during or after their trial. When an appeal is made based on the ineffective assistance of counsel, you may be eligible for a retrial. When you make a motion for ineffective assistance of counsel during a trial, the court may allow you to hire a new attorney.

At Spolin Law, P.C., we can help undo the damage done by a subpar criminal defense lawyer. Our California criminal appeals lawyers will review what happened at your trial and determine if an ineffective assistance of counsel claim is possible.

For more information about appealing a criminal conviction for ineffective assistance of counsel, call us today at (310) 424-5816 for a consultation.

The Sixth Amendment Guarantees Your Right to Effective Counsel

The right to legal counsel originates in the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution. The constitution only says you have the right to a lawyer, but the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the right to a lawyer during a trial would be useless if that lawyer were ineffective. In other words, having an incompetent lawyer is a deprivation of your right to due process comparable to having no lawyer at all.

But lawyers–even the best ones–sometimes make mistakes. And since many of these mistakes are harmless, it wouldn’t make sense for a court to grant a new trial every time a defendant’s lawyer made a bad call. For this reason, the Supreme Court has developed a test for determining if a defendant has been the victim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, the test requires two elements.

First, the defendant must show that their lawyer’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. If your lawyer commits an obvious lack of discretion or performs an act or omission that they cannot adequately explain, then they may have fallen beneath this standard. But if your lawyer can reasonably explain that what they did was part of their strategy, then the court will generally not second guess them–even if their strategy was flawed.

Second, you need to show that your attorney’s failures caused significant prejudice to you. This requirement is met only when the court finds that there is a reasonable probability that, if your lawyer hadn’t made the mistake, the case outcome would have been different. This means that you need to show that your lawyer’s incompetence was the primary reason why you were convicted–as opposed to the strength of the prosecution’s evidence against you.

You Need to Show That Your Lawyer’s Mistakes Caused a Bad Outcome

There could be several instances where your lawyer might have made a mistake, but it still wouldn’t count as ineffective assistance of counsel. For you claim to succeed, you need to demonstrate that your lawyer did something that no reasonable lawyer would do, such as:

  • Failing to challenge unlawfully obtained evidence
  • Failing to object to inadmissible evidence or testimony
  • Missing deadlines for motions
  • Failing to motion for the dismissal of a proceeding when the prosecution is clearly lacking enough evidence to convict you

You can make a motion for ineffective assistance of counsel during your trial if you feel that your lawyer is not performing their duties. Alternatively, after your trial and conviction, you can file an appeal on this basis. Usually, you only have 30 days to appeal a misdemeanor conviction and 60 days to appeal a felony. But there are other appeal options with longer deadlines, and if you had ineffective counsel at trial, a court might be willing to accept a late notice of appeal. For instance, if your trial lawyer did not tell you about the possibility of appealing, or told you they were appealing but then didn’t follow through, the appeals court may be willing to accept a late notice of appeal.

If the court grants your ineffective counsel motion during the trial, the court may appoint–or you may choose–a new lawyer, who may then request a new trial depending on how much damage to your case was done. If the court of appeals grants an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel, the court may vacate your conviction and grant a new trial. If the ineffective assistance of counsel occurred during sentencing, they may grant a new sentencing hearing.

A Los Angeles Criminal Appeals Lawyer Can Help

Many defendants fail to take advantage of the many rights afforded by the criminal justice process. If you feel that your lawyer has been falling short of their duties, or that for any other reason your trial did not unfold fairly, you may have a basis for filing an appeal. Even if you are no longer in a position to file an appeal, you may be able to take alternative post-conviction action such as filing a writ of habeas corpus.

To learn more about your options for overturning a California criminal conviction, call Spolin Law, P.C. today at (310) 424-5816.