ALL TOPICS. ALL SIDES. ONE PLACE.

The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

The Actuality of the Sixth Amendment

W. Scott Cole

Posted on April 18, 2019 23:24

1 user

The relevant section of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution for the purposes of this article guarantees all criminal defendants to have assistance of counsel for his (or her) defense. The million dollar question is how well the courts ensure that right is provided to those who cannot afford an attorney.

The bare requirement of the Sixth Amendment is “assistance of counsel for his defense (sic)”. It wasn’t until 1963, in Gideon v. Wainwright, that the Supreme Court ruled that the courts must provide attorneys for those who could not afford one and that the assistance provided must also be effective. In other words, the attorney must be competent and have knowledge of the law. Those attorneys, for the most part, come from the Public Defender’s Office.

What may surprise many of you is what the courts consider “effective assistance”.  In 1984, in Strickland v. Washington, the Supreme Court held that in order to show ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show 1) that the performance of the attorney was deficient in some way; and 2) that the deficiency affected the result of the trial. Keep in mind that these two prongs must be met and proof found in court transcripts before a defendant can get a hearing to determine if the attorney was actually ineffective. The vast majority of defendants, because they can’t afford an attorney, must try to do this on their own, usually without being able to see the transcripts. That is almost impossible for someone who has no training in the law.

So, what do the courts consider effective assistance? In the case of Muniz v. Smith, in 2011, court records showed that the defense attorney fell asleep while the prosecutor was cross-examining the defendant. It was determined that his assistance met the standard of Strickland.

In People v. Garrison, in 1989, the defense attorney was extremely drunk throughout the entire trial. Under Strickland, he provided effective assistance.

In Bellamy v. Cogdell, in 1992, the defense attorney was in extremely poor health and had been medically determined to be senile. Again, his assistance was determined to be effective.

In Smith v, Yist, in 1987, the defense attorney was mentally ill and even discussed his illness and his delusions in his opening argument. Yep, he did the job effectively.

In State v. Wille, in 1992, the defense attorney had been himself convicted of a felony and part of his sentence was to do community service by defending criminal defendants, even though he had no experience in such cases. You guessed it. He did the job adequately for the court's purposes.

Admittedly, the above cases are on the extreme end of the scale, but there are many others that are just as bad. These cases had one thing in common: none of them showed that if there had been a different attorney representing the defendant, there would have been a different result.

The key word here is would. A defendant must prove to a judge, who has a vested interest in maintaining a conviction, that the conviction was flawed. In other words, prove his innocence in order to get a proper trial.

The bar is too high, and that is part of the reason so many innocent people are in prison.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on April 18, 2019 23:24

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Source: Vox - All

Trump wants “stop and frisk” policies brought to Chicago. And his attorney general is trying to stop major reforms in police...

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest