Conviction Reversal Conditions Based on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I of the California Constitution, a criminal defendant has a right to reasonably competent assistance of an attorney acting as a diligent conscientious advocate. (People v. Ledesma (1987) 43 Cal. 3d 171, 215, 233 Cal. Rptr. 404, 729 P.2d 839.) A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel cannot require reversal of a conviction unless two components are proven. First, the defendant must show that counsel's representation was so deficient that it fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms. (Id. at p. 216; People v. Walker (1993) 14 Cal. App. 4th 1615, 1623-1624.) Second, the defendant must also establish prejudice by showing that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different in that a determination more favorable to defendant would have occurred. (Strickland v. Washington, supra, 466 U.S. at pp. 687-696; People v. Holt, supra, 15 Cal. 4th at p. 703; People v. Horton (1995) 11 Cal. 4th 1068, 1122, 906 P.2d 478.) This reasonable probability must be shown by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence. (People v. Ledesma, supra, 43 Cal. 3d at p. 218.) Moreover, a reviewing court must be highly deferential in scrutinizing trial counsel's performance. (People v. Lewis (1990) 50 Cal. 3d 262, 288, 266 Cal. Rptr. 834, 786 P.2d 892.) A fair assessment of counsel's performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight. (Ibid.) Because of the difficulties inherent in making an evaluation of trial counsel, a reviewing court must indulge the presumption that trial counsel's performance comes within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance and that actions taken in defense of the accused were a matter of sound trial strategy. (Ibid.) Unless there can be no satisfactory explanation for counsel's actions, where the appellate record sheds no light on why counsel acted or failed to act in the manner challenged, the case is generally affirmed on appeal. (People v. Ledesma, supra, 43 Cal. 3d at p. 218, quoting People v. Pope (1979) 23 Cal. 3d 412, 426, 152 Cal. Rptr. 732, 590 P.2d 859.)