Ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and on direct appeal violates the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. In analyzing an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the overriding concern is to determine whether counsel's conduct so undermined the functioning of the adversary process that the trial cannot be relied upon as having produced a just result. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984).
First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction or death sentence resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable. Id. at 687. Review of counsel's performance is highly deferential, and courts must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. at 689.
'Actual or constructive denial of assistance of counsel altogether is legally presumed to result in prejudice. So are various kinds of state interference with counsel's assistance.' 466 U.S. at 692 (citing U.S. v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 659, n.25 (1983). In Cronic, the Court described the type of situation from which prejudice is presumed. When counsel is totally absent, is prevented from assisting the accused at a critical stage of the proceeding, or when counsel entirely fails to subject the prosecution's case to meaningful adversarial testing, courts will presume prejudice. Cronic, 466 U.S. at 659 & n.25.