Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye Decided

July 22, 2011

Whether a criminal defendant who forgoes a plea bargain because of ineffective assistance of counsel is entitled to relief if he subsequently receives a longer sentence after conviction than the prosecutor initially offered.

The Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel applies to plea bargains. The question presented by these two cases is whether a defendant who forgoes a plea bargain because of ineffective assistance of counsel — e.g., the defendant was not informed of the plea offer or his lawyer misrepresented its terms — is entitled to relief if he subsequently receives a longer sentence after conviction than the prosecution initially offered. In an amicus brief submitted jointly with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the ACLU argues that the Sixth Amendment violation requires a remedy, that the goal of the remedy should be to neutralize the constitutional taint to the extent possible, and that trial judges should be given discretion to craft a remedy that is most appropriate under all the circumstances. In some cases, that may mean enforcing the terms of the original plea bargain, in other cases it may mean vacating the conviction and starting the process over again.

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