Monday, November 9, 2009

Supreme Court Reverses Sixth Circuit Decision That Granted Habeas Relief On Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel Grounds

In Bobby v. Robert Van Hook, the United States Supreme Court reversed a decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that had concluded the defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel.  The Court stated "Because we think it clear that Van Hook’s attorneys met the constitutionalminimum of competence under the correct standard, we grant the petition and reverse."  The panel of the Sixth Circuit had once before granted habeas relief to the same defendant, however, in that case the decision was reversed by the en banc Sixth Circuit.
The Sixth Amendment entitles criminal defendants to the “‘effective assistance of counsel’”—that is, representa-tion that does not fall “below an objective standard of reasonableness” in light of “prevailing professionalnorms.”...That standard is necessarily a general one. “No particular set of detailed rules for counsel’sconduct can satisfactorily take account of the variety of circumstances faced by defense counsel or the range oflegitimate decisions regarding how best to represent a criminal defendant.”...Restatements of professional standards, we have recognized, can be useful as “guides” to what reasonableness entails, but only to the extent they describe the professional norms prevail-ing when the representation took place.
The Sixth Circuit ignored this limiting principle, relying on ABA guidelines announced 18 years after Van Hook went to trial....To make matters worse, the Court of Appeals (following Circuit precedent) treated the ABA’s 2003 Guidelines not merely as evidence of what reasonably diligent attorneyswould do, but as inexorable commands with which all capital defense counsel “‘must fully comply.’” 560 F. 3d, at 526 (quoting Dickerson v. Bagley, 453 F. 3d 690, 693 (CA6 2006)). Strickland stressed, however, that “American Bar Association standards and the like” are “only guides” towhat reasonableness means, not its definition. 466 U. S., at 688. We have since regarded them as such.


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