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Law School Case Brief

Lockhart v. Fretwell - 506 U.S. 364, 113 S. Ct. 838 (1993)


The two components to any ineffective-assistance claim: (1) deficient performance and (2) prejudice. A criminal defendant alleging prejudice must show that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Thus, an analysis focusing solely on mere outcome determination, without attention to whether the result of the proceeding was fundamentally unfair or unreliable, is defective. To set aside a conviction or sentence solely because the outcome would have been different but for counsel's error may grant the defendant a windfall to which the law does not entitle him.


An Arkansas jury convicted respondent Fretwell of capital felony murder and sentenced him to death, finding, inter alia, the aggravating factor that the murder, which occurred during a robbery, was committed for pecuniary gain. On direct appeal, Fretwell argued that his sentence was unconstitutional under the then-existing Eighth Circuit precedent of Collins v. Lockhart, 754 F.2d 258, because it was based on an aggravating factor that duplicated an element of the underlying felony -- murder in the course of a robbery. However, the State Supreme Court declined to consider whether to follow Collins because Fretwell had not objected to the aggravator's use during the sentencing phase, and that court later rejected a state habeas corpus challenge in which he raised an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. The District Court conditionally vacated his sentence on federal habeas, holding that counsel's failure to raise the Collins objection amounted to prejudice under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, 104 S. Ct. 2052, in which deficient performance and prejudice were identified as the two components of any ineffective-assistance claim. Although the Court of Appeals had overruled Collins, it affirmed, reasoning that the trial court would have sustained a Collins objection had it been made at Fretwell's trial and the jury would not have sentenced him to death.


Did the performance of Fretwell’s counsel deprive him of a substantive or procedural right to which he was entitled?




In reversing the lower courts' decisions, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the right to counsel under U.S. Const. amend VI existed in order to protect the fundamental right to a fair trial. The Court noted that the Strickland test requiring that defendant show unfair prejudice did not focus solely on outcome determination. The Court concluded that the performance of Fretwell’s counsel did not deprive him of a substantive or procedural right to which he was entitled. Thus, he suffered no prejudice from his counsel's deficient performance.

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