The New York Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the effect of ineffective counsel involving plea agreements on a defendant's constitutional rights. The Sixth Amendment is a regular topic of conversation in the criminal law realm. It is most known for its guarantee of effective counsel to all defendants. As many know, ineffective counsel at trial is grounds for an appeal and potential reversal of a conviction.
The upcoming issue before the Supreme Court involves ineffective counsel in the context of guilty plea agreements. Anthony Cooper, one of the defendants involved in the cases before the Court, was told by his attorney that because his four bullets had impacted his victim below the waist, he could not be convicted of assault with intent to murder. Because of this advice, Cooper rejected a plea agreement sentencing him to 4-7 years. He was later convicted at trial, and is now serving a sentence of 15-30 years. Another defendant, Galin Frye, was not informed of a plea offer by his attorney that called for a mere 90 days in prison. Once he learned of it, the agreement had expired, forcing him to agree to another plea which carried a 3-year sentence.
The Prosecutors for the two defendants have put forth interesting arguments. They have argued that the 6th Amendment only ensures the defendant a fair trial. While a defendant is entitled to a fair trial, no defendant is guaranteed a plea offer. The Prosecutors also admitted that while the conduct of the attorneys for both defendants fell below the standards of professionalism, they could not turn back time. In other words, the fact that the attorneys for the defendants were ineffective involving the plea bargains for their clients is not their problem.
A factor likely to be considered by the Court is how plea agreements should be regulated. Because they are so unbelievably common in the everyday conversations of criminal attorneys, effective regulation may seem impossible. However impossible it may seem, many argue that constitutional regulation is imperative.