SCOTUS Makes it More Difficult to Appeal on the Basis of Ineffective Counsel

A recent Supreme Court decision will make it more difficult for those convicted of crimes to appeal the outcome of a trial on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. The measure was decided in favor of the states in a 6-3 decision. However, the dissenting justices did not mince words when describing the decision. Judge Sotomayor called the decision “perverse.” Judge Clarence Thomas who wrote the prevailing opinion said the federal government should have minimal right to “relitigate” cases years after juries rendered a decision.

Understanding the Legal Issues

The Sixth Amendment guarantees every citizen who is charged with a crime an attorney to represent them. It is assumed that this attorney is competent, can follow the case, and is providing their client with the best possible representation under the circumstances. If they fail to do this, then the defendant can appeal a conviction on the basis that their lawyer did not represent them to the best of their ability. In these cases, the court must render a decision on whether or not a similar attorney in the same position would have taken a better approach and whether or not that approach would have made a significant difference over the outcome.

Death Row Inmates Appeal 

The cases that made their way to SCOTUS involved inmates who were sentenced to death at the state level. The majority opinion detailed the heinous nature of their crimes, but in truth, the type of crime they committed, be it heinous or innocuous, has no bearing on whether or not their constitutional rights were upheld during the proceedings. The concern here is that the Sixth Amendment now has no enforceable means of being guaranteed. If an inmate is not properly represented by their attorney, it may be harder now for them to have the appeal reviewed. 

Initially, an inmate was prevented from bringing an appeal to federal court unless their lawyer was responsible for the failure to bring exonerating evidence. If the inmate failed to raise the point during trial, they could still ostensibly be executed even if evidence of innocence existed. If, on the other hand, their lawyer was responsible for the failure to bring evidence, the federal courts would grant the appeal. This appears to no longer be the case according to the ruling, at least when it comes to filing appeals with the federal government over convictions returned by the state courts. Further, inmates are now prevented from introducing new evidence that their lawyer neglected to include exculpatory evidence during trial, making the appeals process potentially pointless. In most cases, ineffective attorneys are appointed by the state. 

Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Today

To avoid the issue spoken above entirely, it helps to have an attorney that was not appointed by the state. Call criminal defense attorney David Freidberg today at (312) 560-7100 and we can begin preparing your defense immediately. 

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