26 Jul, 2011

The American Bar Association Urges Supreme Court to Find Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel at the Criminal Plea Stage


The American Bar Association on Friday (July 22) filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the respondents in the companion cases of Blaine Lafler v. Anthony Cooper and State of Missouri v. Galin Edward Frye. The ABA urges the court to uphold the lower courts’ rulings that a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel at the plea stage.


In Cooper, the defendant rejected the government’s plea offer based on his lawyer’s incorrect advice on the standard for attempted murder and was convicted at trial. In Frye, the defendant’s lawyer failed to inform him of the government’s misdemeanour plea offer, after which the defendant pleaded guilty to a felony. Both defendants received sentences that were much higher than the plea offers.


Citing standards for competent representation in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct  and the ABA Criminal Justice Standards, the ABA argues that subsequent constitutionally sufficient proceedings — such as a fair trial in Cooper’s case or a court’s acceptance of a guilty plea in Frye’s case — do not remedy a violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights at the critical plea stage.


The brief also asserts that when ineffective assistance causes a defendant to lose the benefit of an advantageous plea bargain, the court should have discretion to fashion a remedy that is reasonably calculated to place the defendant insofar as possible in the position he would have been in had his Sixth Amendment rights not been violated.


“The fact that nearly 95 per cent of criminal convictions now result from guilty pleas makes it all the more important that defendants considering a guilty plea should have competent counsel,” the brief states.


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