Strickland v. Washington

  • November 1, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Rebecca Sharpless, Associate Clinical Professor, University of Miami School of Law


    Two years ago in Padilla v. Kentucky the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment requires that defense attorneys advise their noncitizen clients about the immigration consequences of a plea. The Court recognized what, for decades, the defense and immigration bars have known: competent defense counsel must advise about immigration consequences of a plea. Today, in Chaidez v. USA, No. 11-820, the Court hears argument on the question of whether Padilla governs cases involving federal convictions that predate that decision.

    Chaidez’s defense attorney failed to advise her that pleading guilty to the federal crime of mail fraud would be deemed an aggravated felony, triggering mandatory deportation.  Before Padilla was decided, Chaidez petitioned for a writ of coram nobis under 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a) to set aside her conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel. After Padilla, Chaidez relied upon the decision to lend support to her argument that her attorney had breached a duty to advise her about deportation.

  • November 3, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Emily Garcia Uhrig, Associate Professor of Law, University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

    The Supreme Court will hear argument tomorrow in Wood v. Allen, an Alabama state capital case in which the petitioner, Holly Wood, challenges his death sentence for fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend out of jealousy while she was sleeping in her home.

    Mr. Wood's challenge stems from defense counsel's failure to investigate and develop mitigation evidence for the penalty phase of his trial based on his substantial mental deficiencies. (To begin with, Mr. Wood has an IQ estimated in the 60s.) Mr. Wood was represented by three attorneys - two, experienced and one, just out of law school. Experienced counsel assumed responsibility for the guilt phase of Mr. Wood's trial and put new counsel, who had no prior criminal trial or capital case experience, in charge of the penalty phase.

    Defense counsel learned from a pretrial competency evaluation that Mr. Wood functioned "in the borderline range of intellect." But despite the fact that issues pertaining to mental capacity often provide fertile ground for mitigation during the penalty phase of capital cases, counsel did not investigate further Mr. Wood's limited intellectual functioning nor introduce any evidence on the subject during the penalty phase. The jury recommended death by a 10-2 margin, the statutory minimum for such recommendation in Alabama. The judge abided by the jury's recommendation and sentenced Mr. Wood to death by electrocution.

  • October 21, 2009
    Guest Post

    By L. Song Richardson, Assistant Professor of Law & Co-Director Center for Law and Science, Depaul University College of Law

    Last week's argument forecasts the potentially broad scope of the Court's eventual decision in Padilla v. Kentucky. The two specific questions raised by the case are 1) whether providing effective assistance of counsel in accord with the Sixth Amendment requires defense attorneys to investigate and advise non-citizen defendants about the deportation consequences of a guilty plea and 2) whether affirmatively misadvising a client that a plea will not result in deportation constitutes ineffective assistance. These questions implicate the larger issue of whether the Sixth Amendment requires defense lawyers to investigate and give accurate advice regarding the collateral consequences of a guilty plea. Collateral consequences are consequences that may result from a criminal conviction and which are not within the sentencing court's control. They include loss of the right to vote, loss of a professional license, and, potentially, immigration consequences.

    The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to the effective assistance of counsel in all criminal proceedings. Strickland v. Washington established a two-prong test for evaluating ineffectiveness claims, which has since been applied to guilty pleas (Hill v. Lockhart). To establish ineffectiveness, first "the defendant must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Reasonableness is determined with reference to "prevailing professional norms." The reasonableness inquiry is case specific and context driven, taking into account all the circumstances. Second, the defendant must demonstrate prejudice. This requires establishing that with competent advice, a rational defendant would not have pled guilty but would have insisted on going to trial.

    In this case, Mr. Padilla, a lawful permanent resident, Vietnam war veteran, and 40-year resident of the United States pled guilty to an offense that results in mandatory deportation. He did so based upon the affirmative misadvice of his lawyer that he "did not have to worry about immigration status since he had been in the country so long." Had his lawyer provided accurate advice, Mr. Padilla would have insisted on going to trial.