The Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel During Sentencing

The U.S. Supreme Court has long interpreted the Sixth Amendment to embody a right to effective assistance of counsel, which includes the right to effective assistance during sentencing. There have been several important cases involving this right, including:

  • Strickland v. WashingtonTo prevail on an ineffectiveness claim, petitioners/defendants must prove two things: 1) that their attorneys acted unreasonably, in contravention of “prevailing professional norms” and 2) that petitioners were prejudiced by this deficient performance. To establish prejudice, the petitioner must prove that the sentence would not have been imposed had the attorney performed competently.
  • Lockhart v. Fretwell — This case makes clear that the probable effect of counsel’s deficient performance on the outcome of the sentencing process is not the end of the inquiry. The court must also determine whether the deficient performance led to a result that was “fundamentally unfair or unreliable.”
  • Williams v. Taylor — This case clarified the Strickland and Lockhart holdings. The court explained that 1) Lockhart did not replace the Strickland test, 2) the Strickland test applies to almost all ineffective assistance of counsel claims, and 3) when counsel’s deficient representation deprived the defendant of a substantive or procedural right, the Strickland requirement for “prejudice” is met.
  • Glover v. U.S. — The court further defined the Strickland test by ruling that any increase in the length of incarceration because of counsel’s deficient performance constitutes “prejudice.”