By Derek Gilna
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, has extended Strickland guarantees of effective legal representation to defendants entering into plea bargains. According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who delivered the majority opinion of the Court, “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.”
According to Justice Kennedy, “criminal justice today is for the most part of pleas, not a system of trials…. Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas.” [See: PLN, Jan. 2013, p.20]. The two cases considered by the Supreme Court, Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper, both involved claims in which all parties agreed that defense counsel had failed to properly represent their clients.
In the case of Galin Frye, his attorney never advised him of a plea offer by Missouri prosecutors that would have resulted in ten days in jail for driving with a revoked license. Instead, he later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison. The case of Anthony Cooper involved a charge of assault with intent to murder. Cooper was offered a deal of 51 to 85 months in prison in return for a guilty plea, but turned it down when his counsel allegedly told him he could not be found guilty of the intent to murder charge because he had shot his victim below the waist. At trial, he was convicted and sentenced to 15 to 30 years.