Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Cases In Florida

An ineffective assistance of counsel claim is a mixed question of law and fact and is therefore subject to de novo review on appeal. See Rose v. State, 675 So. 2d 567, 571 (Fla. 1996); Thomas v. State, 616 So. 2d 1150, 1150 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993). However, where the trial court makes findings of fact after an evidentiary hearing on a 3.850 motion, the appellate court cannot substitute its own factual findings for those of the trial court. See Smith v. State, 697 So. 2d 991, 992 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) ("it is within the province of the finder of fact 'to rely upon the testimony found by it to be worthy of belief and to reject such testimony found by it to be untrue'") (quoting I.R. v. State, 385 So. 2d 686, 687 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980)). Under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 2064, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984), a defendant alleging ineffective assistance must demonstrate that his attorney's performance was so deficient that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment and that the defendant was prejudiced by the deficient performance. The Strickland Court noted at the outset that the benchmark for judging an ineffectiveness claim is whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied upon as having produced a just result. 466 U.S. at 686. Specifically, the Court defined prejudice as follows: It is not enough for the defendant to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding. Virtually every act or omission of counsel would meet that test and not every error that conceivably could have influenced the outcome undermines the reliability of the result of the proceeding. On the other hand, we believe that a defendant need not show that counsel's deficient conduct more likely than not altered the outcome in the case. This outcome- determinative standard has several strengths . . . . Nevertheless, the standard is not quite appropriate. . . . the result of a proceeding can be rendered unreliable, and hence the proceeding itself unfair, even if the errors of counsel cannot be shown by a preponderance of the evidence to have determined the outcome. Accordingly, the appropriate test for prejudice . . . is that the defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. a reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. . . . When a defendant challenges a conviction, the question is whether there is a reasonable probability that, absent the errors, the factfinder would have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt. In making this determination, a court hearing an ineffectiveness claim must consider the totality of the evidence before the judge or jury. Some of the factual findings will have been unaffected by the errors, and factual findings that were affected will have been affected in different ways. Some errors will have had a pervasive effect on the inferences to be drawn from the evidence, altering the entire evidentiary picture, and some will have had an isolated, trivial effect. Moreover, a verdict or conclusion only weakly supported by the record is more likely to have been affected by errors than one with overwhelming record support. Taking the unaffected findings as a given, and taking due account of the effect of the errors on the remaining findings, a court making the prejudice inquiry must ask if the defendant has met the burden of showing that the decision reached would reasonably likely have been different absent the errors. the ultimate focus of inquiry must be on the fundamental fairness of the proceeding whose result is being challenged. In every case the court should be concerned with whether, despite the strong presumption of reliability, the result of the particular proceeding is unreliable because of a breakdown in the adversarial process that our system counts on to produce just results. 466 U.S. at 693-696 The reviewing court need not consider whether counsel's performance was deficient if it is clear from the record that the appellant has suffered no prejudice. See Torres-Arboleda v. Dugger, 636 So. 2d 1321, 1324 (Fla. 1994).