Ninety-five percent of criminal convictions are the result of guilty pleas. Last year, the court ruled that “the negotiation of a plea bargain is a critical stage of the litigation for purposes of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.”
Last year’s case involved bad advice that caused a defendant to plead guilty. Monday’s cases, Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye, concerned defendants who, based on incompetent legal work, failed to accept attractive offers.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy appeared reluctant to adopt principles that treated poor legal work differently depending on whether it resulted in the acceptance or the rejection of a plea offer.
Everyone, including lawyers on both sides, agreed it is hard to know how to discuss the problem of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a foregone plea offer.
Mr. Frye was charged with driving without a license. A prosecutor offered to let him plead guilty for a ninety-day sentence. Mr. Frye’s lawyer failed to tell his client the offer. Mr. Frye pleaded guilty without a plea bargain, and a judge sentenced him to three years.
An appeals court reversed the conviction but said it was powerless to insist prosecutors revive the old deal. The court said Mr. Frye could again plead guilty or go to trial.
The second case argued Monday concerned Anthony Cooper, whose lawyer advised him not to plead guilty to assault with intent to murder although he had shot a woman four times. The lawyer said conviction was impossible since the bullets struck the victim below her waist, and he persuaded Mr. Cooper to reject an offer of four to seven years.
The advice was incorrect. Mr. Cooper was convicted and is serving fifteen to thirty years.
In both cases argued Monday, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said there might be some circumstances when concerns about fundamental fairness required courts to order that earlier plea offers be reinstituted.
- Supreme Court Asked How Much Bad Lawyering The Constitution Allows (huffingtonpost.com)
- Court reluctant on plea bargains after sentencing (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- You: Supreme Court to Hear Cases Involving Bad Advice on Plea Deals (nytimes.com)
- Supreme Court hesitates to extend rights on plea deals – Los Angeles Times (news.google.com)
- “Court reluctant on plea bargains after sentencing” (sentencing.typepad.com)