An appellant alleging the constitutional ineffectiveness of his trial counsel must demonstrate both deficient performance and prejudice in order to merit relief under D.C. Code § 23-110. A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on attorney's actual conflict of interest, however, is evaluated under a less stringent standard than the conventional Strickland claim. To show a violation of the Sixth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. VI, a defendant who raised no objection at trial must demonstrate an actual conflict of interest adversely affected his lawyer's performance. A defendant who shows that a conflict of interest actually affected the adequacy of his representation need not demonstrate prejudice to obtain relief. But until a defendant shows that his counsel actively represented conflicting interests, he has not established the constitutional predicate for his claim of ineffective assistance. The possibility of conflict is insufficient to impugn a criminal conviction. To make the requisite showing, an appellant must be able to point to specific instances in the record to suggest an actual conflict or impairment of his interests, as opposed to speculative or hypothetical impairments. It is important to note that overemphasis on the presumption of prejudice cannot operate to obviate the requisite obligation to demonstrate the existence of an actual conflict of interest
Defendant was charged with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder while armed and other crimes. He denied committing the crimes and retained trial counsel. Trial counsel later moved to disqualify himself because he recognized that the proposed strategy of calling a former client to testify about having committed the murders presented an impermissible conflict of interest. The trial court found disqualification was required and also denied a motion to reinstate that counsel in a third trial. The trial court also denied defendant's D.C. Code § 23-110 motion to vacate his sentence, without granting a hearing. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgments of conviction.
Did the trial court err in its disqualification of defendant's retained counsel first trial and the trial court's refusal to reinstate that same counsel at defendant's third trial?
The appellate court found (1) the trial court did not err in its rulings regarding defendant's retained trial counsel because the court had the duty to protect defendant's right to conflict-free counsel under the Sixth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. VI; (2) defense counsel in the third trial did not render ineffective assistance regarding an alleged conflict of interest regarding another witness, as defendant could not show prejudice regarding that witness; and (3) summary dismissal of the D.C. Code § 23-110 motion because defendant did not establish facts in it warranting relief.