In an exciting move, SCOTUS today granted cert. in a capital habeas case [petition here, opposition here] to decide whether someone can receive ineffective assistance during the plea bargaining process. The actual facts are slightly more complicated, but as Scotusblog notes, the basic question (which was added later by the Court) is what is:
the remedy that [is] available for ineffective defense lawyer’s efforts during plea bargaining, if the individual was later convicted at a fair trial.
Most of the commentary and discussion in the blawgosphere has centered around whether ineffective assistance during the plea bargaining process is a valid IAC claim, where the defendant then goes on to receive a fair trial. The answers that I have seen thus far have been no. I will respectfully disagree. The answer should be: “yes”.
For example Crime and Consequences says:
The fact that a better lawyer might have gotten him a windfall is not a miscarriage of justice if the final result is a just verdict for the crime he actually committed. Habeas is about correcting injustices, and justice is not a game. Plea bargaining is something we barely tolerate out of necessity. It is not a right to which defendants are entitled, and not getting a deal is not an injustice.
There are several problematic things about that paragraph, but today I’ll deal with just the last. Yes, there is no Constitutional right to plead guilty, but the SCOTUS has held that there is a Constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel at a critical stage of the criminal proceedings. Strickland, 466 US at 686. The plea bargaining process is and must be a critical stage of the criminal proceeding.
plea bargaining is an integral component of the criminal justice system and essential to the expeditious and fair administration of our courts.
Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63
Then we come to Hill v. Lockhart. In Hill the Court held “that the two-part Strickland v. Washington test applies to challenges to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel”, relying on McCann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 (1970) (all defendants facing felony charges are entitled to the effective assistance of competent counsel). Really, there cannot be another conclusion.
In this case, the attorney misadvised the defendant about taking an offer. Consider a situation where the attorney fails to inform the defendant of an offer that he would have taken. Regardless of whether the ensuing trial was fair or not, the defendant was not informed of the availability of a plea bargain. How can he be said to have provided effective assistance if he failed to inform the defendant of a favorable resolution of the criminal prosecution? How can you say that the trial would have occurred in the first place?
So what then, is the remedy, if it is found that the attorney was ineffective? It has got to be specific performance. But for the ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant would have taken the offer. He must be put back in the position he was in when the offer was made and given the option to either take the offer or reject it and proceed to trial.
“Poor lawyering” in the pre-trial process cannot be negated by an otherwise fair trial. Maybe I’m just spoiled by CT law. See Copas v. Commissioner of Correction, 234 Conn. 139.