In Strickland v. Washington the United States Supreme Court formulated the test for determining whether counsel in a criminal case is ineffective. When the Court decided Strickland it created a doctrine of enormous proportions, but with little impact–a legal tyrannosaurus rex without teeth. In the last decade, by using American Bar Association (“ABA”) standards to evaluate counsel’s performance, the Court has given the T-Rex some sizable incisors. The purposes of this article are to: (1) determine how frequently the United States Supreme Court uses ABA standards in its decisions and describe briefly for what purposes the Court uses those standards; (2) describe in some detail the decision of Strickland v. Washington and its test for determining whether counsel was ineffective; (3) describe the decisions of Williams v. Taylor, Wiggins v. Smith, and Rompilla v Beard, and their implications on the test formulated in Strickland as to how the ABA standards relate to defense counsel’s duty to investigate; (4) report on the ABA’s efforts to discover and describe the causes of ineffective assistance; and (5) suggest changes that tighten the Strickland test, giving it more traction as a guide for the courts in measuring counsel’s performance.
April 9, 2008