Thursday, March 22, 2012

Plea Bargaining and Effective Counsel

SCOTUS Expands Rights of Accused in Plea Bargains:

Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to effective lawyers during plea negotiations, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a pair of 5-to-4 decisions that vastly expanded judges’ supervision of the criminal justice system.

The decisions mean that what used to be informal and unregulated deal making is now subject to new constraints when bad legal advice leads defendants to reject favorable plea offers.

“Criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. “The right to adequate assistance of counsel cannot be defined or enforced without taking account of the central role plea bargaining takes in securing convictions and determining sentences.”
Some legal scholars are calling these cases the "greatest revolution in the criminal justice process since Gideon v. Wainwright provided indigents the right to counsel,” but I think that's going a bit far. The spirit of the 6th amendment regarding adequate counsel has been a bedrock of constitutional guarantees for over 50 years now. What the majority recognized here is that since the criminal justice system itself has evolved into a system of plea bargaining, the 6th amendment needed to be framed in terms of more than just a right that exists "at trial."
Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, acknowledged that allowing the possibility of do-overs in cases involving foregone pleas followed by convictions presented all sorts of knotty problems. But he said the realities of American criminal justice required to the court to take action.

Some 97 percent of convictions in federal courts were the result of guilty pleas. In 2006, the last year for which data was available, the corresponding percentage in state courts was 94.

“In today’s criminal justice system,” Justice Kennedy wrote, “the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant.”

Quoting from law review articles, Justice Kennedy wrote that plea bargaining “is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.”
Amen. Scalia wrote both dissents, which I usually quote from for laughs, but neither was particularly original nor amusing.

The cases are Missouri v. Frye (2012) and Lafler v. Cooper (2012).

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