United States Supreme Court to decide what is ineffective assistance of counsel
The United States Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of Woods v Donald. This is a Michigan case that involved an allegation of an attorney for a defendant was ineffective because he was outside of the courtroom for approximately 15 minutes during a jury trial that involved multiple defendants and the testimony was unrelated to his client. The Michigan courts decided that “no harm no foul”. There was nothing relevant to the defendant going on so the fact that his attorney was not in the courtroom was of no concern and not ineffective.
The Supreme Court is being asked to overrule the 1984 case of United States v Cronic. In that case Cronic was being tried on mail fraud charges. The trial court appointed a young lawyer to represent the defendant who had never tried a case before. The attorney was only allowed 25 days to prepare, the government had had almost 5 years to investigate and prepare. Mr. Cronic was convicted. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction based not on the performance of counsel but instead by inferring ineffective assistance of counsel because of the time given to defense counsel, the experience of counsel, the gravity of the charges and the complexity of possible defenses.
The Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeals saying that the lower court was wrong in inferring ineffective assistance. A successful claim of ineffective assistance of counsel can be made only by pointing to specific errors made by trial counsel.
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