MISSOURI v. FRYE

The U.S. Supreme Court on March 21, 2012, in the case of MISSOURI v. FRYE, (Case #10-444) http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-444.pdf, vacated the Decision of the Missouri Court of Appealsholding the right to effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S Constitution extends to all critical stages of a criminal case including but not limited to plea offers that may be rejected or lapse because they were not previously accepted.

In the underlying case for driving on a revoked license, the defendant was charged with a felony since this was his fourth offense, with a sentence of up to four years in prison. An offer of a misdemeanor plea bargain was sent by the prosecution to Frye’s lawyer, who did not convey the offer to his client. Thereafter, Frye pled guilty to a felony and was sentenced to three years in prison. Thereafter, Frye sought relief in state court, claiming his attorney failed to inform him of the earlier plea offer and this denied him effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Frye asserted he would have pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor had he known of the prosecutor’s offer.

The State of Missouri contended they should not be subject to the consequences of a defense counsel’s inadequacies because Frye had an opportunity for a full and fair trial and/or a guilty plea even if on less favorable terms. The Supreme Court opined the State’s arguments do not overcome the fact 97% of Federal con­victions and 94% of all State convictions are the result of guilty pleas. It held “Plea bargains have become so central to today’s criminal jus­tice system that defense counsel must meet responsibilities in the plea bargain process to render the adequate assistance of counsel hat the Sixth Amendment requires at critical stages of the criminal process.”

In summary, a lawyer has a duty at the plea stage of a criminal proceeding to promptly inform his client of all significant prosecution settlement proposals and to fully explain the alternatives available to his client after a thorough and complete analysis of all of the facts and issues. When a defense lawyer fails to convey a plea offer to his client or provides materially inaccurate advice regarding the underlying charges, and the prosecutor’s burden to prove the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense attorney’s conduct falls below the minimum standard required for adequate and effective assistance of counsel.