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Lafler v. Anthony Cooper, USSC No. 10-209, Cert. Granted 1/7/11

Docket

Decision below (CTA6)

Questions Presented:

Anthony Cooper faced assault with intent to murder charges. His counsel advised him to reject a plea offer based on a misunderstanding of Michigan law. Cooper rejected the offer, and he was convicted as charged. Cooper does not assert that any error occurred at the trial. On habeas review, the Sixth Circuit found that because there is a reasonable probability that Cooper would have accepted the plea offer had he been adequately advised, his Sixth Amendment rights were violated. The writ was conditioned on Michigan re¬offering the plea agreement. The question presented is: Is a state habeas petitioner entitled to relief where his counsel deficiently advises him to reject a favorable plea bargain but the defendant is later convicted and sentenced pursuant to a fair trial?

IN ADDITION TO THE QUESTIONS PRESENTED BY THE PETITIONS THE PARTIES ARE DIRECTED TO BRIEF AND ARGUE THE FOLLOWING QUESTION :

“WHAT REMEDY, IF ANY, SHOULD BE PROVIDED FOR INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL DURING PLEA BARGAIN NEGOTIATIONS IF THE DEFENDANT WAS LATER CONVICTED AND SENTENCED PURSUANT TO CONSTITUTIONALLY ADEQUATE PROCEDURES?”

Cert petition

Brief in opposition

Petitioner’s reply

Scotusblog page

The first Question is pretty self-explanatory. Based on misadvice from his attorney, Cooper rejected a plea bargain and went to trial. Had he taken the deal, his sentence would have been as much as 11 years or so less than the one he ended up with. Deficiency is, or should be, clear, the sticking point being prejudice, hence the Question added by the Court re: remedy, whether an error-free trial can paper over a pretrial misstep. The problem does arise from time to time, and there’s favorable (for now) local caselaw: State v. James A. Fritz, Jr., 212 Wis.2d 284, 569 N.W.2d 48 (Ct. App. 1997) (“Although the focus of the “prejudice” aspect of Strickland and its progeny is “on the question whether counsel’s deficient performance renders the result of the trial unreliable or the proceeding fundamentally unfair,” Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 372 (1993), a defendant who claims that he or she would have accepted a plea bargain if the trial lawyer had not been constitutionally deficient is not foreclosed from showing prejudice by the fact that he or she has had a fair trial, United States v. Blaylock, 20 F.3d 1458, 1466 (9th Cir. 1994). …”). Long and short of this grant is whether a “fair trial” means that as a matter of law deficient performance in taking the case to trial is non-prejudicial.

Companion grant: Missouri v. Frye, 10-444, dealing with whether error-free guilty plea renders irrelevant any deficiency underlying rejection of prior, more favorable plea bargain; post: here.

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