Lawyers are human. Sometimes they make mistakes. However, sometimes lawyers fail to do their jobs entirely. When this happens, there is a very real human cost. That is why courts will provide post-conviction relief to people who suffered severe consequences due to the ineffective assistance of their legal counsel.
The Strickland test
The U.S. Supreme Court developed a test for determining whether a lawyer was truly ineffective in the case of Strickland v. Washington. There are two parts to this test.
The first part looks at your lawyer’s performance. You will have to show that your attorney didn’t act in a way that most attorneys would’ve acted. The court will approach this part under the assumption that your lawyer did a respectable job. That’s because there are several ways to handle a case. The courts do not want to discourage lawyers from trying different strategies.
The court will not base its decision on how your case turned out. Instead, it will try to determine if a capable lawyer would’ve acted similarly. The court may still find you had effective assistance, even if your attorney made some mistakes. Perfection is not a requirement of the legal profession. You need to be as specific as possible concerning what about your lawyer’s conduct was bad and the impact that it had on your case.
The second part of the test involves showing prejudice. This means you will have to show that your lawyer’s performance, or lack thereof, changed the outcome of your trial. Even if you’re able to show that your lawyer acted much differently than most attorneys would have acted, it’s not ineffective assistance of counsel if the same result would’ve been reached. You will need to show that there’s a good chance you would have had a different outcome if you had good legal representation.
What sort of relief can you expect?
If you succeed in your motion for post-conviction relief, the judge may grant you a new trial, modify your sentence, or provide another form of relief based on their discretion. A skilled legal professional can help you explore your post-conviction relief options.