“What is to be done in cases in which a lawyer’s incompetence caused the client to reject a favorable plea bargain?”
In the United States, a small amount of cases actually go to trial. Instead, criminal cases are mainly disposed of when the defendants plead guilty. In fact, statistics prove that 97% of federal convictions and 94% of state convictions were the results of guilty pleas. Under the US Constitution, criminal defendants have a right to effective counsel during plea negotiations. Recently, the Supreme Court [SC] has placed on check on plea bargains. Based on two recent cases that reached the SC, the Court concluded that defense counsel has not been giving defendants’ effective and adequate legal advice when their client should accept a “fair deal.” As a result, the SC held that new constraints must be in place during any plea negotiations in order to protect defendant’s 6th Amendment right to effective counsel. Essentially, this would stop defendants from receiving bad legal advice about favorable plea offers.
Why is the Supreme Court so interested in this practice that has always been kept out of the public’s eye?
Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority of the opinion that “criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials.”
The opinion continues to state:
“Claims of ineffective assistance at trial are commonplace even though trials take place under a judge’s watchful eye. Challenges to plea agreements based on misconduct by defense lawyers will presumably be common as well, given how many more convictions follow guilty pleas and the fluid nature of plea negotiations. “
Now, will appeals under the 6th Amendment ineffective counsel be common based on their attorney’s actions during plea bargaining? In this decision, the SC has expanded the meaning of the 6th amendment to include plea bargaining in 2012.
“Justice Scalia wrote that expanding constitutional protections to that realm ‘opens a whole new boutique of constitutional jurisprudence,’ calling it ‘plea-bargaining law.’”
If a defendant proves that their lawyer’s incompetence affected the outcome of the case, the defendant is entitled to a new trial. Further, lawyers are also required by the Supreme Court to offer competent advice “urging defendants to give up their right to a trial by accepting a guilty plea.”
Do you see any problematic results with this decision? The Court even recognized that “it is going to be tricky . . . and there are going to be a lot of defendants who say after they’re convicted that they really would have taken the plea.”
To avoid this problem, Justice Kennedy provides us with “measures to help ensure against late, frivolous or fabricated claims” which require that “plea offers be in writing or made in open court.”
What do you think will be the effect of this decision? What about in the larger context of our country’s history? Is the US the only country where its defendants plead guilty over 90%? Will this ruling have any effect in the local courts? Is this good for defense attorneys both here and abroad?