In What Circumstances Can Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Be Presumed by the Court ?
In United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 80 L. Ed. 2d 657, 104 S. Ct. 2039 (1984), the "Supreme Court created an exception to the Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984), standard for ineffective assistance of counsel, and acknowledged that certain circumstances are so egregiously prejudicial that ineffective assistance of counsel will be presumed." Stano v. Dugger, 921 F.2d 1125, 1152 (11th Cir. 1991).
These circumstances include those where the accused is denied the presence of counsel at a critical stage in the proceeding, where counsel entirely fails to subject the State's case to a meaningful adversarial testing, and where the circumstances are such that even competent counsel could not render assistance. See Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 695-96, 152 L. Ed. 2d 914, 122 S. Ct. 1843 (2002). In Cronic, the United States Supreme Court held that when surrounding circumstances justify a presumption of ineffectiveness, a Sixth Amendment claim can be sufficient without inquiring into counsel's performance.
Such circumstances arise when a Defendant is denied presence of counsel at a critical stage in the prosecution or when there is a breakdown in the adversarial process that would justify a presumption that a Defendant's conviction was reliable. Id. at 2046-2049.
Cronic applies to a narrow spectrum of cases where counsel's ineffectiveness was so egregious that the Defendant was in effect denied any meaningful assistance at all. See also, Chadwick v. Green, 740 F.2d 897 (11th Cir. 1984).
Apart from circumstances of that magnitude, there is generally no basis for finding a Sixth Amendment violation unless the accused can show how specific errors of counsel undermine the reliability of the finding of guilt. Cronic, supra, at 2047 (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. at 693-696, 104 S. Ct. at 2067-2069).