The United States Supreme Court today ruled that criminal defendants have the constitutional right to effective representation when making the decision as to whether or not to accept a plea bargain. In two paired cases, Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye, the Court ruled that an attorney’s mistakes at the plea bargain stage can render a defendant’s plea ineffectual.
Our Annapolis criminal defense attorneys are experienced at giving our clients the right advice with regard to all of the client’s available options, including plea deals. In today’s legal climate, more often than not, criminal charges are resolved by way of plea bargains, rather than trials. Our attorneys are prepared to provide our clients with the proper guidance as to what will give the clients the best results possible.
In Cooper, Cooper’s attorney informed him that he could not be convicted of assault with intent to murder, because of the attorney’s belief that Michigan law did not permit a finding of intent to murder when the victim was shot below the waist; the attorney was wrong. As a result, Cooper rejected a plea deal, under which he would have received a recommended 51-to-85-month sentence. He was subsequently convicted at trial, and received the mandatory minimum 185-to-360-month sentence.
In Frye, the defendant was arrested for driving with a revoked license, the third time he had been arrested for that offense. Frye faced a maximum of four years in prison on the charge. The prosecutor in the case provided Frye’s attorney with an offer to reduce the charge, making it a misdemeanor, with a 90 day jail sentence. Frye’s attorney, however, did not bother to relay the offer to his client. Frye ultimately plead guilty to the charge, without the benefit of the offered plea bargain, and was sentenced to three years in prison.
The Court’s opinions were delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He observed that America’s trial system has generally morphed into a system of plea deals, where “the negotiation of a plea bargain, [instead of] the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant.”
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that all criminal defendants shall have the right to the assistance of counsel in their defense. Supreme Court opinions have found in this language a requirement that the assistance be effective. That is, the attorney’s assistance must be sufficient to allow the judicial proceeding to produce a just result. Before the Cooper and Frye decisions, the Court had not specifically applied this standard to plea bargains. In reaching the decision that effective assistance of counsel is mandatory during the plea deal stage, Justice Kennedy noted that “The reality is that plea bargains have become so central to the administration of the criminal-justice system that defense counsel have responsibilities . . . that must be met to render the adequate assistance of counsel that the Sixth Amendment requires.”
In every criminal proceeding, the difference between effective and ineffective representation by an attorney can have dramatic effects on the case’s ultimate outcome. Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys have the knowledge and experience to achieve the best possible results for our clients.