Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Supreme Court decides two cases on ineffective assistance of counsel

Today the Supreme Court announced two decisions in cases involving claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that essentially conclude that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to effective lawyers during plea negotiations.  The Court, also set the standard to meet in order to obtain relief when the defendant's argument is that the attorney's ineffective assistance resulted in the rejection of the plea offer.  Both cases were decided by 5 to 4 votes.  I have not had a chance to read the opinions myself, so I will reserve my opinion for now.  Meanwhile, however, here is a quick summary (courtesy of the SCotUS blog) and a few links.

In the first opinion, Missouri v. Frye, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel ex­tends to the consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected and that that right applies to “all ‘critical’ stages of the criminal proceedings.”  Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Thomas and Alito.  The oral argument for this case is available here.

In the second opinion, Lafler v. Cooper the Court held that where counsel’s ineffective advice led to an offer’s rejection, and where the prejudice alleged is having to stand trial, a defendant 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. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Thomas joined and in which Chief Justice Roberts joined as to all but Part IV. Justice Alito also filed a dissenting opinion.  The oral argument is available here.

The New York Times has more the story here.

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