Bringing an Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim in Florida

The U.S. Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused as the right to assistance of counsel. This constitutional right has been interpreted to mean, a criminal defendant has the right to effective assistance of counsel.

Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are usually brought in post-conviction motions for relief. There are several types of ineffective assistance of counsel claims, the most common one being based on attorney error and the argument that the accused’s lawyer failed to defend the case properly somehow. For example, the attorney failed to call key witnesses to testify at trial, failed to object to evidence at trial or failed to file a motion to suppress, or failed to properly investigate the defenses to the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) sets forth the standard to evaluate attorney error ineffective assistance of counsel cases. Under Strickland, the defendant bringing an ineffective assistance of counsel claim must establish that (1) his or her attorney’s performance was deficient and (2) the defendant’s defense was prejudiced by the deficient performance.

There are various ways that a defendant can establish that trial counsel’s performance was deficient. The standard here is that the attorney’s conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Whether conduct meets the norms of the legal profession is evaluated on a case by case basis. To show deficient performance, a defendant may have other attorneys testify about norms in attorney conduct.

The second prong the defendant must prove is a reasonable probability that but for the attorney’s errors, the defendant would have pled not guilty or the result of the trial court proceeding would have ended with a different outcome. In other words, simply showing that an attorney erred is not enough. The burden is higher and the error must be severe enough to have altered the end result of the case or have changed the defendant’s plea.

In reviewing claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, the trial judge is not allowed to take advantage of hindsight. In other words, the trial judge must consider only the attorney’s conduct at the time the alleged error was made. Also, the trial judge must necessarily weigh the evidence presented at trial to determine whether the trial attorney’s conduct would have resulted in a different outcome for the defense. This puts the trial judge in a role similar to an appellate judge, which he or she is less accustomed to.

Under Florida law, motions for ineffective assistance of counsel are brought under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. There is a very large body of law detailing the nuances of this rule. Therefore, in bringing a motion for post-conviction relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel, you should retain an attorney experienced in post-conviction matters so that your attorney is knowledgeable of this law, current cases and changes to the law, and how to argue these motions should the case be set for an evidentiary hearing.

If you believe you have ineffective assistance of counsel claims, contact our experienced Florida post-conviction relief attorneys today for a free consultation. Our attorneys handle post-conviction relief motions throughout the State of Florida.

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