Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Ineffective Assistance Definition:

In USA constitutional law, grounds for reversing a criminal law judicial determination where relevant legal advice was deficient and prejudicial.

Related Terms: Sixth Amendment, Deficient

US flagA legal term of  American constitutional law, related to the Sixth Amendment guarantee of assistance of counsel.

Since that 1791 Amendment, the Courts have read into the Constitution a requirement of not just assistance of counsel but a requirement of effective assistance. Hence, the derived legal term, ineffective assistance.

In Strickland v Washington, Justice O'Connor of the United States Supreme Court wrote:

"[T]he proper standard for attorney performance is that of reasonably effective assistance.... [A] guilty plea cannot be attacked as based on inadequate legal advice unless counsel was not a reasonably competent attorney and the advice was not within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases. When a convicted defendant complains of the ineffectiveness of counsel's assistance, the defendant must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.

"More specific guidelines are not appropriate. The Sixth Amendment refers simply to counsel, not specifying particular requirements of effective assistance. It relies instead on the legal profession's maintenance of standards sufficient to justify the law's presumption that counsel will fulfill the role in the adversary process that the Amendment envisions. The proper measure of attorney performance remains simply reasonableness under prevailing professional norms."

Consider also these words of Justice Pryor of the United States Court of Appeals when he wrote this, relying on Strickland:

"To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance, a defendant must establish two things: (1) counsel's performance was deficient, meaning it fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defendant."1


  • Gordon v. US, 518 F. 3d 1291 (2008; Note 1}
  • Strickland v. Washington, 466 US 668 (1984)

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