Strickland v. Washington

PETITIONER: Strickland
RESPONDENT: Washington
LOCATION: Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida - Dade County

DOCKET NO.: 82-1554
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 668 (1984)
ARGUED: Jan 10, 1984
DECIDED: May 14, 1984

Calvin L. Fox - for petitioners
Carolyn M. Snurkowski - on behalf of the Petitioners
Richard E. Shapiro - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

David Washington pleaded guilty to murder in a Florida state court. At sentencing, his attorney did not seek out character witnesses or request a psychiatric evaluation. Subsequently, the trial court sentenced Mr. Washington to death finding no mitigating circumstances to rule otherwise. After exhausting his state court remedies, Mr. Strickland sought habeas corpus relief in a Florida federal district court. He argued that his Sixth Amendment right was violated because he had ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. The district court denied the petition. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed. The court held that the Sixth Amendment accorded criminal defendants a right to counsel rendering "reasonably effective assistance given the totality of the circumstances." It then remanded the case to the district court to apply this standard and determine whether Mr. Washington's counsel was sufficiently prejudicial to justify the reversal of his sentence.


What standard should be applied to determine whether a convicted person's Sixth Amendment right to counsel has been violated so as to require reversal of a conviction or to set aside a death sentence?

Media for Strickland v. Washington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 10, 1984 in Strickland v. Washington

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Strickland against Washington.

Ms. Snurkowski, I think you may proceed whenever you arel ready.

Carolyn M. Snurkowski:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the issue before the Court today is whether the Eleventh Circuit's en banc decision setting forth the standards by which prejudice and the competency level of a defendant in a collateral action, the manner in which that standard should be applied is up for consideration.

The state is very concerned because this particular case concerns three major topics of interest to the state of Florida, and that is that we have a standard that has been imposed by the Eleventh Circuit en banc which upends the standards that the Circuit Courts have addressed.

We have a standard that says it is in direct conflict and it acknowledges conflict with a D.C. case, United States versus DeCoster.

It is also in conflict with the Florida Supreme Court's assessment of what the state of Florida will do with regard to assessing competency of counsel.

In that particular case, Knight versus State, which is cited in our pleadings, the Florida Supreme Court meticulously set forth the standard for the review of claims of competency of counsel and relied on and looked to with approval the case of DeCoster.

The third part of this case was actually the first and second part, because it has kind of been meshed.

We are concerned here also with the scope that habeas corpus will take in federal litigation by state prisoners, because possibly, possibly the outcome of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has expanded the ability of the defendant to completely forget about cause, demonstrate a degree of prejudice, not affecting the outcome, and open up all claims that may or may not be cognizable pursuant to habeas corpus proceedings.

John Paul Stevens:

May I ask you a preliminary question--

Carolyn M. Snurkowski:


John Paul Stevens:

--because it is right on that point.

This case, as I understand it, was a mixed petition.

There was an unexhausted Gardner claim raised by the petitioner which was not... never been submitted to a state court.

Is that correct?

Carolyn M. Snurkowski:

It came about at the federal evidentiary hearing.

I don't believe it was specifically initially addressed by the petitioner to the court.

What happened, during the course of the proceedings, there was discrepancies with regard to whether the trial court and defense counsel had seen Dr. Jacobson's psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Washington which occurred approximately October 6th, so about six days after his arrest--

John Paul Stevens:

But that claim was raised for the first time at the federal habeas corpus proceeding.

Is that correct?

Carolyn M. Snurkowski:

--Well, but again, the claim wasn't per se raised.

It came about and it was resolved through further discussions at that proceeding that in fact there was not a Gardner violation because--

John Paul Stevens:

There was not a Gardner violation?

Carolyn M. Snurkowski:

--There was not... right.

John Paul Stevens:

The Court of Appeals said that claim was raised for the first time in the federal habeas corpus proceeding.

Carolyn M. Snurkowski:

That is correct with regard to--

John Paul Stevens:

Now, do you concede that there was jurisdiction in the federal habeas corpus proceeding notwithstanding the fact that the petition contained an unexhausted claim?

Carolyn M. Snurkowski:

--The state would contend that as the posture of the development of this case developed, that in fact it was a ruse.

There was in fact no unexhausted claim before the federal court.

The fact that there was discussion with regard to the Gardner issue, that it was resolved, that in fact that the court did not utilize that material, and defense counsel's remarks with regard to whether he had seen it was unclear.