For the first time, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that defendants have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel even when they are offered a chance to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. In a 5-4 ruling the Supreme Court ruled in favor of two men who claimed that their lawyers were incompetent. One case involved Galin Frye who was charged in Missouri of driving on a revoked license. Because he had been convicted three previous times for the same offense, he was facing up to four years in prison if he had been convicted. The prosecutor sent a letter to Frye's attorney offering his client a 90 day jail sentence in return for him pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. Frye's lawyer never informed his client and the offer expired. After this offer, Frye was arrested again for driving on a revoked license and this time he plead guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison. The other case involved Anthony Cooper who was charged in Michigan with intent to murder and three other crimes. The prosecutor offered Cooper a sentence between 51 and 85 months but Cooper rejected the offer after he was convinced to do so by his lawyers who incorrectly advised him that the state could not prove he intended to kill the victim if he shot him below the waist. Cooper was eventually convicted and received 360 months, or 30 years, in prison. The majority ruled that the defendants can claim a constitutional violation but must show that but for the lawyers advice, "there is a 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." In both of the cases, Justic Antonin Scalia took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench in open court. Justice Scalia decried the majority's decision and claimed that the court was opening up an entirely new area of litigation that the legislature could solve more efficiently and adequately than the court. He criticized the court for penalizing everyone by reversing perfectly valid convictions.
The cases are Lafler v. Cooper, 10-209, and Missouri v. Frye, 10-444.
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