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Iowa Law Review



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Charles Bell, Donald Paradis, Shirley Tyler, death penalty, Sixth Amendment, effective counsel, right to counsel, right to effective counsel


Charles Bell, Donald Paradis, and Shirley Tyler were tried in different states for murder. Each was convicted and sentenced to death. Charles Bell was represented at trial by a recent law school graduate who had never before tried a criminal case to completion. Donald Paradis's lawyer had passed the bar exam six months earlier, had never previously represented a criminal accused, and had not elected courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, or trial advocacy while in law school. Shirley Tyler's trial lawyer was also a member of the bar for only a few months. He had defended one previous assault case and one previous robbery case, each lasting half a day. Each condemned prisoner later asserted that he or she had been denied the Sixth Amendment right of a criminal accused "to have the assistance of counsel for his defence on the ground that the defense attorney had rendered ineffective legal assistance. In asserting this claim, each undertook the difficult burden of demonstrating the likelihood that he or she had received a sentence of death only because of the attorney's unreasonably poor performance. Not surprisingly, none of the three death-row defendants claimed to have been deprived of "counsel" altogether, since courts unwaveringly adhere to the view that "counsel" under the Sixth Amendment includes any duly licensed attorney. This Article argues, however, that a narrower construction of the constitutional term is warranted: "counsel" should include only those attorneys who are qualified to render legal assistance to a person accused of a crime. By that standard, these three defendants, and many others who similarly have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death with an unqualified attorney by their side, have been deprived of their right to "counsel."