Robert R. Rigg

Document Type



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, [FN4] Wiggins v. Smith, [FN5] and Rompilla v Beard, [FN6] 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.