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Amdt6.6.5.1 Overview of the Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel

Sixth Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

In McMann v. Richardson, the Court held that “the right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel.” 1 This right to effective assistance may be implicated in at least three ways.2 First, a court’s action may interfere with counsel’s effectiveness if the court restricts a defense counsel in exercising his or her representational duties and prerogatives attendant to the adversarial system of justice of the United States.3 Second, the Sixth Amendment is implicated when a court appoints a defendant’s attorney to represent his co-defendant as well, where the co-defendants are known to have potentially conflicting interests.4 Third, defense counsel may deprive a defendant of effective assistance by failing to provide competent representation that is adequate to ensure a fair trial,5 or, more broadly, a just outcome.6 The right to effective assistance may be implicated as early as the process for appointment of counsel.7

McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 n.14 (1970). The Court stated: “[I]f the right to counsel guaranteed by the Constitution is to serve its purpose, defendants cannot be left to the mercies of incompetent counsel . . . . ” Id. at 771. As a corollary, there is no Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance where there is no Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Wainwright v. Torna, 455 U.S. 586, 587–88 (1982) (per curiam) (holding that defendant may not raise ineffective assistance claim in context of proceeding in which he had no constitutional right to counsel). back
An additional issue is the extent to which the actions of government investigators may interfere with the effective assistance of counsel. See United States v. Morrison, 449 U.S. 361, 362, 364, 366 (1981) (assuming without deciding that investigators who met with defendant on another matter without knowledge or permission of counsel and who disparaged counsel and suggested she could do better without him, interfered with counsel, but holding that in absence of showing of adverse consequences to representation, dismissal of indictment was inappropriate remedy). back
E.g., Geders v. United States, 425 U.S. 80, 91 (1976) (holding “that an order preventing [defendant] from consulting his counsel ‘about anything’ during a seventeen hour overnight recess between his direct and cross-examination impinged upon his right to the assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment” ); Herring v. New York, 422 U.S. 853, 864–65 (1975) (concluding that trial court denied defendant effective assistance of counsel through application of state statute to bar defense counsel from making final summation). back
E.g., Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 75–76 (1942) (holding that court deprived defendant of effective assistance of counsel by appointing the same counsel to represent defendant and a codefendant despite danger of divided attention and conflicts). back
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). back
See, e.g., Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 162–63 (2012) (defense counsel deprived defendant of effective assistance of counsel through erroneous advice during plea bargaining). back
Glasser, 315 U.S. at 70 (stating that “the ‘Assistance of Counsel’ guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment contemplates that such assistance be untrammeled and unimpaired by a court order requiring that one lawyer shall simultaneously represent conflicting interests” ); see also Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 71–72 (1932) (holding that as a matter of due process, the assignment of defense counsel in a capital case must be timely and made in a manner that affords “effective aid in the preparation and trial of the case” ). back