Strickland Two Prong Test

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." U.S. Const. amend. VI. However, assistance of counsel does not have to be perfect or free from error. McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 774, 90 S. Ct. 1441, 25 L. Ed. 2d 763 (1970). Rather, "the right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel." Id. at 771 n. 14. Conversely ineffective assistance of counsel occurs when a trial counsel's performance falls below that of a "reasonably competent attorney." Id. at 770-71. The United States Supreme Court elaborated on the meaning and scope of effective assistance of counsel in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984). The Court determined that the purpose of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is to ensure a fair trial. Id. at 684-85 ("The Sixth Amendment recognizes the right to the assistance of counsel because it envisions counsel's playing a role that is critical to the ability of the adversarial system to produce just results"). Based on this purpose, the Court stated that "the benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result." Id. at 686. In determining whether a criminal defendant has been deprived of effective assistance of counsel, the Court adopted a two-pronged test. Id. at 687. First, the defendant must "show that the counsel's performance was deficient." Id. Second, the defendant must "show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense." Id. Under the first prong, or the "performance prong," a defendant must show that the defense counsel's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688. In determining whether a defense counsel's advice is reasonable, a court must determine whether it is "within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases." Id. (quoting McMann, 397 U.S. at 770-71). Furthermore, the reasonableness of counsel's conduct must be assessed according to "the facts of the particular case, viewed as of the time of counsel's conduct." Id. at 690. Under the second prong, or the "prejudice prong," 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." Id. at 694. Therefore, the defendant must show with reasonable probability that the attorney's error caused the defendant to lose the case. Id. at 695. Applying the standard adopted by Strickland, the United States Supreme Court in Hill v. Lockhart determined that Strickland's two-prong test applies to ineffective assistance claims arising out of the plea process. 474 U.S. 52, 57-58, 106 S. Ct. 366, 88 L. Ed. 2d 203 (1985). However, for claims arising out of the plea process, Strickland's prejudice prong is slightly modified. Id. at 58-59. In determining whether an attorney's conduct in negotiating a plea agreement amounts to ineffective assistance, the defendant satisfies the prejudice prong by showing that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Id. at 59. Therefore, after pleading guilty, a defendant must show that the counsel's error was the sole reason the defendant waived the trial and pled guilty. Id.