On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that defendants in criminal cases have the right to legal advice from a qualified attorney regarding plea deals offered by the prosecution. At the least, the defendant must be informed by defense counsel if the prosecution has offered a plea bargain. The decision applies to both state and federal cases.
The ruling was actually applied in two separate cases. In one, Galin Frye was sentenced to three years in prison for repeat DUI, despite the prosecution’s offer of a sentence of 90 days in exchange for a guilty plea. Frye’s attorney did not discuss the plea offer with him, an act which, the Supreme Court ruled, violated Frye’s legal rights.
In the second case, Anthony Cooper, on the advice of his attorney, rejected a plea bargain that would have reduced his sentence at least by half. The attorney told him that he would not be charged with murder because he did not shoot his victim above the waist. The Supreme Court ruled that Cooper’s right to a competent attorney had been violated.
The significance of the rulings becomes clear in light of the fact that well over 90% of state and federal convictions are the result of guilty pleas. “Ours for the most part is a system of pleas, not a system of trials,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted. The preponderance of plea deals means that it is vital to ensure defendants are given access to legal advice from qualified attorneys.
The Los Angeles Times report can be found here.