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Strickland v. Washington

Supreme Court of the United States

January 10, 1984, Argued ; May 14, 1984, Decided

No. 82-1554


 [*671]  [***683]  [**2056]     JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to consider the proper standards for judging a criminal defendant's contention that the Constitution requires a conviction or death sentence to be set aside because counsel's assistance at the trial or sentencing was ineffective.

During a 10-day period in September 1976, respondent planned and committed three groups of crimes, which included  [*672]  three brutal stabbing murders, torture, kidnaping, severe assaults, attempted murders, attempted extortion, and theft. After his two accomplices were arrested, respondent surrendered to police and voluntarily gave a lengthy statement confessing to the third of the criminal episodes. The State of Florida indicted respondent for kidnaping and murder and appointed an experienced criminal lawyer to represent [****9]  him.

Counsel actively pursued pretrial motions and discovery. He cut his efforts short, however, and he experienced a sense of hopelessness about the case, when he learned that, against his specific advice, respondent had also confessed to the first two murders. By the date set for trial, respondent was subject to indictment for three counts of first-degree murder and multiple counts of robbery, kidnaping for ransom, breaking and entering and assault, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Respondent waived his right to a jury trial, again acting against counsel's advice, and pleaded guilty to all charges, including the three capital murder charges.

In the plea colloquy, respondent told the trial judge that, although he had committed a string of burglaries, he had no significant prior criminal record and that at the time of  [***684]  his criminal spree he was under extreme stress caused by his inability to support his family. App. 50-53. He also stated, however, that he accepted responsibility for the crimes. E. g., id., at 54, 57. The trial judge  [**2057]  told respondent that he had "a great deal of respect for people who are willing to step forward [****10]  and admit their responsibility" but that he was making no statement at all about his likely sentencing decision. Id., at 62.

Counsel advised respondent to invoke his right under Florida law to an advisory jury at his capital sentencing hearing. Respondent rejected the advice and waived the right. He chose instead to be sentenced by the trial judge without a jury recommendation.

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466 U.S. 668 *; 104 S. Ct. 2052 **; 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 ***; 1984 U.S. LEXIS 79 ****; 52 U.S.L.W. 4565



Disposition:  693 F.2d 1243, reversed.


sentencing, Sixth Amendment, ineffectiveness claim, cases, investigate, courts, assistance of counsel, defense counsel, circumstances, decisions, ineffectiveness, district court, murders, effective assistance, death sentence, mitigating circumstances, conflicting interest, capital sentencing, state court, trial judge, lower court, convicted, aggravating circumstances, attorney performance, strategic choice, reasonable probability, line of defense, principles, ineffective assistance claim, counsel's performance

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Right to Jury Trial, Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Defendant's Rights, Right to Public Trial, Assistance of Counsel, Speedy Trial, Counsel, Right to Counsel, General Overview, Effective Assistance of Counsel, Trials, Tests for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Entry of Pleas, Guilty Pleas, Standards of Review, Deferential Review, Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Burdens of Proof, Defense