Habeas Hints: 2012 Supreme Court Habeas Highlights: Plea Bargaining Cases

By Kent Russell

This column provides “habeas hints” to prisoners who are considering or handling habeas corpus petitions as their own attorneys (“in pro per”). The focus of the column is on “AEDPA” (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act), the federal habeas corpus law which now governs habeas corpus practice in courts throughout the United States.

Missouri v. Frye, 132 S.Ct. 1399 (2012)

Lafler v. Cooper, 132 S.Ct. 1376 (2012)

In Missouri v. Frye (Frye) and Lafler v. Cooper (Cooper), the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) held that, when a plea offer by the State is rejected due to ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC), the defendant may be entitled to a second chance at accepting the offer – even if he subsequently pleaded guilty to less favorable terms, or went to trial, was found guilty and received a longer sentence than that provided for in the original plea offer.

In Frye, the defendant was charged with a felony for a fourth offense of driving with a revoked license. The prosecutor sent Frye’s lawyer a letter offering to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if Frye pleaded guilty within a specified time period and agreed to a 90-day sentence. However, the lawyer never informed Frye of the offer before the deadline for acceptance, and the offer expired. Then Frye, ignorant that the plea offer had lapsed, pleaded guilty without conditions and was sentenced to 3 years in prison – more than 10 times the sentence he would have received had he accepted the plea offer.

In Cooper, the defendant was charged with assault with intent to murder after he shot a woman in the buttocks. Prosecutors offered a plea deal with a recommended term of four to seven years. However, Cooper’s lawyer advised him to reject the offer because the lawyer insisted that state law did not permit an attempted murder conviction for wounds inflicted below the waist. The lawyer’s advice was 100% wrong, but Cooper relied on it and rejected the plea offer. Cooper then went to trial, was convicted and received a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 to 30 years – more than 4 times greater than the sentence he would have received had he taken the plea bargain.

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