Someone facing criminal charges may be aware they have the right to counsel, but they may not be aware their constitutional right is for effective assistance of counsel. What happens if counsel provides ineffective counsel and what exactly constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel? Maryland residents who have been following the post conviction relief trial of fellow Maryland resident Adnan Syed may not be aware of a few key points of the law regarding this.
If a lawyer's performance is below the standard of effective assistance of counsel, it may be possible for the whole trial to be rendered void, which means a new trial can follow. Two things must be proven in this case: that the lawyer's behavior fell below the standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms and that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result would have been different. This means that the defendant must show that the lawyer's assistance was outside of what is considered competent.
In the Adnan Syed case, mentioned previously on this blog, the defendant has been incarcerated since 2000 on murder charges of his girlfriend and has argued ineffective assistance of counsel as the basis for a new trial. His argument is not that the lawyer did not call an alibi witness to testify during the original trial; a court generally would not accept this argument as it is not the court's job to second-guess a lawyer's strategic decisions. Rather, his argument is that his lawyer failed to even contact the witness and ascertain if the witness could even provide valuable information or not. Arguably, this failure could be considered below the standards of the profession.
Even though most lawyers work hard at ensuring the rights of Maryland residents charged with murder charges, it is still possible that something is lacking in their defense. An experienced defense attorney may be able to provide guidance to those charged with violent crimes on how to enforce their rights even after a criminal conviction is ordered.
Source: Huffington Post, "This is what the judge in the Adnan Syed (Serial) case will be deciding," Kevin Sali, Feb. 15, 2016