U.S. Supreme Court

ABA Urges Supreme Court to Find a Right to Effective Assistance in Plea Bargains


The ABA is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to find that criminal defendants have a right to effective assistance of counsel at the plea bargain stage.

The ABA filed its amicus brief in a pair of appeals by defendants who say they got bad lawyer advice, leading them to turn down favorable plea bargains, according to a press release. In one case, Lafler v. Cooper, the defendant was convicted after his lawyer advised him to reject a plea offer based on a misunderstanding of Michigan law. In the other, State v. Frye, the defendant pleaded guilty to a felony after his lawyer failed to tell him of a misdemeanor plea offer.

“The fact that nearly 95 percent 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 (PDF) says.

Courts should have discretion in fashioning the appropriate remedy when defendants lose the benefit of an advantageous plea because of ineffective lawyering, the brief advises. In some cases, the appropriate remedy will be to vacate the conviction and allow the government to bring a new prosecution. In others, the remedy may be to allow the defendant the benefit of the lost offer.

The Wisconsin Law Journal covered the initial cert grant. SCOTUSblog has a summary and additional documents.

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