If you've recently been convicted of a crime that is likely to have a major negative impact on your future employability or even affect where you can live, you may be considering your appeal options. Those who are certain their conviction was due to their defense attorney's poor performance (or lack of performance) at trial may opt to pursue a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel -- that is, if it were not for your attorney's mismanagement of the case, you would not have been convicted. Read on to learn more about what you'll need to offer in support of an ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) argument, as well as what may happen if this argument is successful on appeal.
What constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel in the criminal trial process?
Every state requires its licensed attorneys to abide by certain standards of professional conduct. These include a number of rules dictating minimal competence in an area of law, regular communication with one's client, and diligent efforts to represent a client to the best of one's ability. Attorneys are also required to seek client consent for any decisions that will directly impact the case (like accepting or denying a plea agreement), although not procedural or tactical decisions that can impact how the cases proceeds at trial.
To prove ineffective assistance of counsel, you'll need to demonstrate that your attorney's actions were so negligent and so far afield of the rules of professional conduct that they negatively impacted your case, therefore denying you the due process of law to which you were entitled upon being charged with a crime. This is a fairly steep hurdle to clear, as many criminal defendants who are convicted at trial seek to blame their attorney first; true attorney misconduct leading to an IAC charge is relatively rare.
Some situations in which an IAC allegation has been upheld on appeal involve attorneys who were practicing while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whose caseloads were so heavy they did very little (if any) prep work prior to trial, or attorneys who disobeyed their client's instructions to settle the case or attempt to exclude certain evidence.
What happens if an appellate judge determines your trial counsel did provide ineffective assistance?
If an appellate court finds that your trial counsel did not effectively represent you, your conviction will usually be overturned and the case will be retried. You'll be able to choose a new attorney (or have a new attorney appointed if you can't afford one on your own).
Your trial attorney may also be subject to sanctions in a separate attorney disciplinary proceeding. A determination of IAC doesn't automatically get an attorney into trouble, but multiple IAC determinations could lead to major disciplinary actions, up to and including the suspension of an individual's license to practice law. In most cases, state disciplinary commissions will be put on notice whenever a conviction is overturned due to IAC, but if you're not sure of your own state's procedures and want to ensure your attorney is suitably punished, you may opt to file a complaint yourself.
For more information, you will want to visit http://www.pedersonlawrc.com.Share