Supeme Court Extends Right to Counsel to Plea Bargains

The Supreme Court today ruled defendants have the right to effective assistance of counsel during plea bargain negotiations.

The cases are Lafler v. Cooper, No. 10-209, and Missouri v. Frye, No. 10-444.

In Lafler, the court said where a defendant rejects a plea offer on the advice of counsel and proceeds to trial, in order to show counsel was ineffective,

[H]e must show that but for the ineffective advice, there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court, that the court would have accepted its terms, and that the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer’s terms would have been less severe than under the actual judgment and sentence imposed.

If the defendant makes the showing:

Where a defendant shows ineffective assistance has caused the rejection of a plea leading to a more severe sentence at trial, the remedy must “neutralize the taint” of a constitutional violation but must not grant a windfall to the defendant or needlessly squander the resources the Stateproperly invested in the criminal prosecution...

If the sole advantage is that the defendant would have received a lesser sentence under the plea, the court should have an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the defendant would have accepted the plea. If so, the court may exercise discretion in determining whether the defendant should receive the term offered in the plea, the sentence received at trial, or somethingin between.

However, resentencing based on the conviction at trialmay not suffice, e.g., where the offered guilty plea was for less serious counts than the ones for which a defendant was convicted after trial, or where a mandatory sentence confines a judge’s sentencing discretion. In these circumstances, the proper remedy may be to require the prosecution to reoffer the plea. The judge can then exercise discretion in deciding whether to vacate the conviction from trial andaccept the plea, or leave the conviction undisturbed.

In Frye:

The Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel extends to the consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected. That right applies to “all ‘critical’ stages of the criminal proceedings.”

..As a general rule, defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal prosecution offers to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused. Any exceptions to this rule need not be addressed here, for the offer was a formal one with a fixed expiration date.

To show prejudice where a plea offer has lapsed or been rejectedbecause of counsel’s deficient performance, defendants must demonstrate a reasonable probability both that they would have acceptedthe more favorable plea offer had they been afforded effective assistance of counsel and that the plea would have been entered without the prosecution’s canceling it or the trial court’s refusing to accept it,if they had the authority to exercise that discretion under state law.

< Manning and the Broncos Sitting in a Tree | Wednesday Afternoon Open Thread >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    5-4 decisions (5.00 / 0) (#1)
    by MKS on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 03:43:07 PM EST
    with Kennedy the author of the opinions.

    The Supreme Court matters.  

    It is interesting (none / 0) (#2)
    by KeysDan on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 06:13:39 PM EST
    To note that the Obama Administration was at odds with the Supreme Court majority having supported the prosecution position more in line with the minority as crafted by Scalia,Alioto, Roberts, and Thomas.

    Not actually interesting at all (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Peter G on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 08:22:08 PM EST
    Every administration's Justice Department, of whatever party and whatever political leaning, has supported, does support, and will support the prosecutors' position in criminal cases, if that position is reasonably defensible.

    Gee, can't you find (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by KeysDan on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 08:38:44 AM EST
    anything, at all, interesting about it?   I even find your comment interesting.

    consequences for defense lawyers? (none / 0) (#4)
    by diogenes on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 10:11:13 PM EST
    Any lawyer who provides "ineffective assistance" of this magnitude presumably should be disciplined by the bar association and/or vulnerable to legal malpractice suits initiated by public-spirited pro bono lawyers.

    There is absolutely nothing new (none / 0) (#5)
    by Peter G on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 10:22:01 PM EST
    in these decisions, so far as the ethical and professional duties of the defense attorneys are concerned.  That wasn't even in dispute.  What divided the Court, and what is important in the decisions, is clarification of what the client has to prove in a post-conviction motion to establish an entitlement to get his/her sentence reduced to the level that it would have been, had s/he known about and accepted the plea offer in a timely way, when it was first extended.

    there is something new (none / 0) (#7)
    by diogenes on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 06:03:22 PM EST
    These two individuals had a trial in front of a jury of their peers and were convicted by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.  No one is disputing their lawyers' competence AT THE ACTUAL TRIAL.  The new penumbra is that there is a constitutional right to maximize one's opportunity for a plea bargain.

    New only that a majority of the Supreme Court (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Peter G on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 09:37:24 PM EST
    has said so.  Not new, as I was trying to say, under the settled law for many, many years in all federal circuits and most states.  And not new so far as the authorities on professional ethics and responsibilities of criminal defense lawyers have long held.