In a forthcoming article in the American Journal of Criminal Law, John H. Blume of Cornell Law School explores recent Supreme Court decisions that affect the guidelines for effective counsel for capital defendants. Blume notes in "It's Like Déjà Vu All Over Again: Williams V. Taylor, Wiggins V. Smith, Rompilla V. Beard and a (Partial) Return to the Guidelines Approach to the Effective Assistance of Counsel" that despite the recognition by researchers, litigators, and judges of the problem of poor representation of capital defendants, most post-conviction claims of ineffective counsel are denied.
Claims of ineffective counsel are typically judged by the standards set forth in Strickland v. Washington (1984), which require a defendant to show that his lawyer did not perform within a wide range of competency and that this poor performance gives probability that the outcome of the defendant’s case would have been different. According to Blume, the Strickland standards have been difficult for defendants to satisfy. The cases discussed in Blume’s article, however, offer promise for change because “while purporting to operate within the Strickland framework, the [Supreme] Court in all cases held that trial counsel's representation was constitutionally inadequate.” Instead, the Supreme Court in Williams V. Taylor, Wiggins V. Smith, and Rompilla V. Beard used the American Bar Association Standards for Criminal Justice as guidelines for determining effective counsel and found the counsel in each case ineffective.