Category Archives: habeas

To plead or not to plead: a critical question

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

So muses Hamlet in Act 3, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play of the same name. So goes the quandary faced by criminal defendants in today’s criminal justice system: to plead or not to plead? Is it more advisable to suffer the ignominy of a conviction and lesser jail time up front than to press the sword of trial and hope that it doesn’t turn on you, often to more deleterious effect?

Hamlet had no one to guide him honestly; the modern criminal defendant, however, does: his lawyer. And it is upon this lawyer that he relies for a frank and learned assessment of the pros and cons of the various options available to him. To argue that the decision to plead guilty or to reject an offer is not a “critical stage” of the criminal process is to disingenuously ignore the realities of this modern day system.

And yet this is precisely what agents of the various States have been arguing for many years. This is a nonsensical fight that I personally have fought for at least 5 years now, without any direct guidance from the United States Supreme Court. Until yesterday.

In two sure to be seminal cases, Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye [both PDF], the Supreme Court unequivocally held that the right to counsel at all “critical stages” of a criminal proceeding means the right to effective assistance of counsel at those stages and yes, Dorothy, the plea bargain is a “critical stage”.

The argument for this holding is best explained by stating the position of those against it. The position against is this: so long as a defendant receives a fair trial, it is irrelevant whether – and to what extent – his lawyer erred in the time leading up to that trial. Reductio ad absurdum, to these folks, if a lawyer never speaks to his client prior to the trial and conveys no offer, it doesn’t matter, because the right to effective assistance of counsel only has force in the context of a criminal trial.

To a less absurd degree, take the case of Lafler, whose lawyer told him that he should reject a very favorable pre-trial offer and instead make the State prove its case because there was no way he could legally be convicted of attempted murder, since the victim was shot in the leg.

You don’t need 3 years of law school and a passed bar exam to tell you that’s just wrong. Stupid, wrong and dangerous. But the States would have you believe that it is of no moment that such patently faulty advice was given, because Lafler received a fair trial.

Justice Kennedy, writing for both majorities, explains it well:

The reality is that plea bargains have become so central to the administration of the criminal justice system that defense counsel have responsibilities in the plea bargain process, responsibilities that must be met to render the adequate assistance of counsel that the Sixth Amendment requires in the criminal process at critical stages. Because ours “is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials,” Lafler, post, at 11, it is insufficient simply to point to the guarantee of a fair trial as a backstop that inoculates any errors in the pretrial process.  “To a large extent . . . horse trading [between prosecutor  and defense counsel] determines who goes to jail and for how long. That is what plea bargaining is.  It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system;  it is the criminal justice system.”

While the significant role of plea bargaining cannot be diminished (also why ideas like taking every case to trial are stupid and unethical), I would argue that the right to effective assistance pre-trial is not a product of only that large impact of the plea process. It is also a matter of simple logic and ethical responsibility. As I’ve long argued, we are our clients’ shepherds through this complicated quagmire that we call the criminal justice system. The layman, untrained in the nuances of this system, look to us to proffer advice and most often follow our advice. How would you feel if you were given bad advice by the person whose only responsibility was to give you good advice?

Simply put, the issue boils down to this: if you have a right to have a lawyer give you advice, then you have a right to have that lawyer give you competent advice.

This is an outcome that everyone involved – judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys – should be cheering, because it ensures that the system is fair. That is not to say that all advice given by counsel that a defendant doesn’t like is per se ineffective, as some folks1 would have you believe. Rather that a court should evaluate that advice to determine whether it was sound. I suspect that in the vast majority of cases, the advice will be deemed so. But there will also be cases where, but for the misadvice of counsel, the defendant would have not been worse off.

The problem with these opinions lies – as it often does – with the remedy. Here is where I part ways with Justice Kennedy. He writes, in the context of a sentence after a jury trial and a rejected plea agreement:

The specific injury suffered by defendants who decline a plea offer as a result of ineffective assistance of counsel and then receive a greater sentence as a result of trial can come in at least one of two forms.  In some cases, the sole advantage a defendant would have received under the plea is a lesser sentence.  This is typically the case when the charges that would have been admitted as part of the plea bargain are the same as the charges the defendant was convicted of after trial.  In this situation the court may conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the defendant has shown a reasonable probability that but for counsel’s errors he would have accepted the plea.  If the showing is made, the court may exercise discretion in determining whether the defendant should receive the term of imprisonment the government offered in the plea, the sentence he received at trial, or something in between.

This proposed model of determining remedy is fundamentally unsound. The general underlying principle is – and should be – that the defendant, when disadvantaged by the Constitutional violation, should be placed back in the position he was in before the violation so disadvantaged him. See, e.g., Santobello v. New York. To suggest that an appropriate remedy for this Constitutional violation could be the same sentence he received as a result of this violation is incongruent and incomprehensible. In my mind, the only appropriate remedy2 is the first one: if the defendant can establish that the plea was rejected as a result of ineffective assistance and the plea would have been accepted by the judge, the only way to make the defendant whole is to sentence him to the terms of that plea. Anything else would be a band-aid on a gaping wound.

Finally, there will always be naysayers even among the defense bar. To them, I repeat words I wrote just under two years ago:

Ineffective assistance of counsel is a sort of “dirty” phrase in the criminal defense world. It is viewed by many as a personal attack and is met with scorn, anger and derision directed toward those who practice in the post-conviction arena. That this view is prevalent among the bar is alarming. It belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the duties and responsibilities of the defense lawyer in the criminal justice system.

IAC claims are not a taint on your reputation nor is it an indictment of your abilities. It is a recognition of the simple fact that we are all working within a juggernaut of a system that from time to time overwhelms even the best of us.  At the end of the day, it is you and I who go home to our comfortable beds. You and I have the ability to walk outside in the free world and to buy what we choose and talk to whom we want, whenever we want. To place our petty egos and some twisted sense of self-worth before the complaints of the convicted client, who has nothing but a badly beaten and bruised writ to use to seek his release from the oppressive conditions of confinement in our penal institutions is pettiness of the ugliest kind.

This may be getting repetitive, but it cannot be said enough that in order to truly serve our clients we must view ourselves as nothing but an extension of the individual client. We must be the client, at every moment that we represent them. We – criminal defense lawyers – are not parties to a criminal case. The client is. We are his representative. We must, at all times, remember that and act like it.

 

 

———————

1. The analogy given by the good folks at C&C is, simply put, stupid and inapposite. This is not a situation where “you offer to buy my car for $10,000.  After consulting with my expert, I reject the offer.  Turns out my expert gave me bad advice.  The next week, I want to go through with the deal.  In the meantime, though, I have wrecked the car.  Would it be fair to make you pay me $10,000 for the now-wrecked car?” The expert has no duty to give me advice and my “wrecking the car” is not analogous to going to trial with that expert as my advocate.

2. The same good folks at C&C suggest that the appropriate remedy should be that “the defense lawyer should be personally liable for the cost of the trial.  If the defense was the public defender’s office, the cost of prosecution should be transferred from the public defender’s budget to the district attorney’s budget.” If it wasn’t clear prior to today that the good folks at C&C were only concerned with obtaining convictions and watching people murdered by the State, it should be now. Such a rigid, simplistic view of the by-its-nature murky and unclear business of assigning guilt does a disservice to everyone.

 

A Cronic problem

too soon?

Lawyers, despite what some would have you believe, are people too. We eat, we breathe, we cry, we laugh and we sleep. And there’s nothing wrong with that and there shouldn’t be. Except that last one – sleep – specifically if a lawyer decides that the cross-examination of his client, in front of a jury, is the perfect opportunity to catch a few winks.

Sleeping lawyers have been mentioned on this space before [and elsewhere], so I would be remiss in not pointing out the latest escapade of one who allegedly decided to shut his eyes for a few minutes during that oh-so-unimportant part of a criminal trial. This one comes courtesy of the 6th Circuit (and via Volokh) in Muniz v. Smith [PDF], in which Muniz alleged through the sworn affidavit of a juror that his attorney was, in fact, asleep.

I won’t bother with the facts of the case or the outcome, because both are quite obvious: there is no presumed prejudice under Cronic because there is no record that the lawyer was asleep for a substantial portion of the trial and there is no Strickland violation because goshdarnit Muniz was overwhelmingly guilty.

But the Court’s perfunctory analysis of the issues raises a greater problem: what is it that we expect of lawyers in our criminal justice system? Why is it acceptable for a lawyer to be asleep for even as little as a minute during a criminal trial?

In Cronic, SCOTUS said:

An ode to the Kitchens sink: a tragicomedy

Once upon a time in Connecticut
there was a Court
which, to Constitutional errors,
gave much thought

it matters not, the Court said
if an error wasn’t preserved
if certain conditions are met
we’ll give it the review it deserved

And so the court issued
its seminal holding
in the case of
State v. Monica Golding

The State huffed and puffed
and fumed and schemed
to get the court to ignore these errors
it daily dreamed

In every case
the State cried foul
“but that precise claim wasn’t raised”
it bleated with a scowl

And then the Court changed
as members came and went
the State continued to try
to put in Ms. Golding a dent

And as the years went by
the Court became less receptive
to these pleas of error
the State considered defective

Lo, it finally came to pass
in Kitchens, Akande and Mungroo,
that to instructional error
the Court would now say
“sorry, no can do”

If you do not object
or even stand silently by
as erroneous instructions
the jury must apply

If you do not state
with exacting precision
the specific problems
with the court’s instruction

The court will deem that you have waived
the client’s right
Due Process? Fair trials?
you cannot seek this constitutional might

The court can err
confuse and mislead
but for this Constitutional infirmity
only you will bleed

You must be prescient
You must be attentive
because the Court has become
anal retentive

And now that Ms. Golding’s
been sent to the Kitchens sink
What are we to do?
What are we to think?

Ask for copies
and then ask for time
and if you forget
just remember this rhyme

One thing is certain
One thing is sure
For our clients’ ills
We are the only cure.

And now the prose version for those who either tl;dr-ed the above or who just didn’t understand what the hell it meant:

What do we want from our system?

see end of post for info on this picture

I feel compelled to start, once again, with one of my favorite quotes:

Ammianus Marcellinus relates an anecdote of the Emperor Julian which illustrates the enforcement of this principle in the Roman law. Numerius, the governor of Narbonensis, was on trial before the Emperor, and, contrary to the usage in criminal cases, the trial was public. Numerius contented himself with denying his guilt, and there was not sufficient proof against him. His adversary, Delphidius, “a passionate man,” seeing that the failure of the accusation was inevitable, could not restrain himself, and exclaimed, “Oh, illustrious Cæsar! if it is sufficient to deny, what hereafter will become of the guilty?” to which Julian replied, “If it suffices to accuse, what will become of the innocent?” Rerum Gestarum, L. XVIII, c. 1.

Coffin v. United States. And yet, in these days, I look around and see more of Delphidius than of Caesar. Surely, you have heard of Casey Anthony and the verdict of not guilty rendered in her capital trial, that has sent a million heads spinning and the veins of nearly half the population of the country pumping with boiling blood calling for vengeance and murder.

The appreciation of a system which presumes an individual innocent unless the State can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt seems to be shrinking to a select few who make their living in that system. For the rest, the pure exhilaration of having a pre-determined verdict of guilt (and isn’t it always guilt?) announced, confirming their increasingly myopic and monochromatic view of the world is the only expectation.

Do we want a system that protects the individual or do we want a system that confirms our view of the guilt of those arrested? Do we want a system that lifts the substance of the accusation up to the light – and upon finding  it wanting – discards it? Or do we want a system that goes by the smell test? Do we want a system where no one who is arrested is not guilty? Do we want so much to believe in the infallibility of our so-called protectors? Do we want a system that allows us to so easily and hypocritically create an artificial divide between the mob and the mobbed?

Does the system only work when the guilty are convicted and the innocent are acquitted, or does it work when some who may be guilty are nonetheless set free? Does the system work when some who are likely innocent are not?

we are mindful that it may seem unjust to allow a conviction to stand when the evidence on which the conviction rested has been discredited. It must be remembered, however, that, once properly convicted, the petitioners no longer are cloaked in the mantle of the presumption of innocence.

Gould v. Commissioner of Correction, while doing just that. Gould is a case I wrote about some time ago, where a habeas court reversed Gould’s (and his co-defendant Taylor’s) conviction for murder on the grounds that they were actually innocent. From that decision:

“A senseless, cold-blooded, execution style murder was committed in the early morning hours of July 4th, 1993,” Fuger begins. Eugenio Deleon Vega went to his small Fair Haven bodega, La Casa Green, to open shop at 5:08 a.m. “Before the hour of six AM, before he could even arrange the morning newspapers, he was dead.  He had been executed, shot once in the left temple with a projectile from a .38 caliber semiautomatic pistol. These are indisputable facts.”

Fuger sets the scene for his sharp reproof with a blazing sub-header on Page One.

“This case rises and falls on the testimony of Doreen Stiles,” the sub-header reads, quoting New Haven’s Senior Assistant State Attorney James Clark’s words during Taylor and Gould’s 1995 Superior Court trial.

“No truer statement has ever been spoken,” Fuger wrote.

Stiles, a drug-addicted police informant, was the only supposed eyewitness who placed the defendants at the murder scene. DNA evidence found at the murder scene did not match Gould or Taylor. The state’s case rested on Stiles’ testimony, as Clark openly admitted during the trial. Stiles came forward and recanted her statement in 2006, allowing the defendants to open a joint habeas corpus claim of actual innocence, based on new evidence.

It is “crystal clear,” wrote Fuger, “that the sole piece of evidence, the only thread that links George Gould and Ronald Taylor to this senseless murder is the testimony of Doreen Stiles. If this tether breaks, then there is absolutely nothing that implicates these two men.”

“At the trial of the case in 1995, the case rose because Doreen Stiles made that linkage; at the trial of the habeas petition in 2009, the case must fall, once again, based upon the testimony of Doreen Stiles,” Fuger wrote.

The Supreme Court in its desire to so respectfully uphold the notion of finality, trips over itself to make absolutely clear that they seems somewhat squeamish about writing this decision, but in the end, they really have to. They don’t, really. I know it, they know and you should know it too. The verbal gymnastics are impressive:

In sum, the recantations by Stiles and Boyd may demonstrate that there no longer is any credible evidence that the petitioners did commit the crimes of which they were convicted. What the habeas court’s decision lacks is any discussion of affirmative evidence that would prove by clear and convincing evidence that the petitioners did not commit the crimes. We therefore conclude that the habeas court’s judgments must be reversed…

Emphasis added by me to point out the subtle use of words to support their conclusion.

So, if the only testimony which links the defendants to the murder is now discredited, and that’s not enough, then what must someone do to convince a court of their innocence? I’m glad you asked:

First, taking into account both the evidence produced in the original criminal trial and the evidence produced in the habeas hearing, the petitioner must persuade the habeas court by clear and convincing evidence, as that standard is properly understood and applied in  the context of such a claim, that the petitioner is actually innocent of the crime of which he stands convicted. Second, the petitioner  must establish that, after considering all of that evidence and the inferences drawn therefrom, as the habeas court did, no reasonable  fact finder would find the petitioner guilty.

Not only does one have to prove to the system that they affirmatively did not commit this crime, but they also have to prove that a jury would not find them guilty. It isn’t enough, here, that one presents evidence proving that they did not commit the crime – although how that is to be applied as a universal standard is beyond me.

Are we to decide on the innocence of individuals who are caught up in our system based on their their sheer luck that there exists some physical evidence such as DNA that proves they did not commit the crime? Must we require such a circumstance beyond their control? And what do we say to those who are lucky enough to completely undermine the State’s case against them, yet unlucky enough to have no independent corroborative evidence of their “alleged” innocence? Finality trumps innocence? Form over substance? Perhaps.

It really doesn’t come as any surprise, though, to me – and perhaps to you as well – that our rules are such. That there is a bias toward convicting and keeping people convicted. I sit here, day after day, reading as cases and reports of cases come flooding across my line of sight – and every day it’s the same: we love pronouncing judgment on others and love our moral indignation and our self-assumed superiority. We are better. They are guilty. And how dare anyone disagree with us:

A red-haired woman in her 60s who moved to Florida from Michigan, she told the court she worked at a Publix Grocery when she was questioned as a potential juror.

Now, she’s in hiding.

Juror number 12 left Florida. Her husband, fighting back tears, tells NBC News he’s not sure when she’ll return to her home in Florida.

Why? He says she fears half of her co-workers want her head on a platter.

The other may understand what she did, but she didn’t want to face them.

She was due to retire in the fall, but Juror number 12, after being released from sequestration, chose to call her boss to announce she couldn’t come to work. She didn’t feel safe.

She retired over the phone.

The husband, who sat with two NBC News producers, glanced repeatedly at his blood pressure monitor on the coffee table and the Bible next to it.

One day they’ll come for you and there’ll be no one left to speak up for you.

What do we want from our system? A rubber stamp, apparently.

[For an interesting local connection to the image above, see here.]

The Limp Writ Redux

Because the State of Connecticut has nothing else to worry about *cough3billiondollardeficitcough*, it’s time for the legislature to entertain bills on all sorts of nonsensical subjects, including one that’s every “dumb on crime” legislator’s favorite whipping boy: Habeas Corpus reform. The bill is exactly the same as the one proposed last year (no, I haven’t done an actual word-by-word comparison, but it looks pretty damn identical to me), so instead of wasting my time crafting an entirely new response, I’m going to follow the learned legislators’ lead and copy and paste my detailed response from last year. But don’t be fooled into skipping past it. It’s awesome and I’m pretty sure I put a lot of hard work into writing it a year ago. That this bill has once again been presented to the legislature is not any indication of the need for habeas reform; rather it is a testament to the improbably short-sighted and bull-headed nature of our elected representatives for whom it is more important to appear as if they’re doing something worthwhile than to actually do it.

Since the time of the Magna Carta, prisoners have been able to challenge the legality of their incarceration by petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus, long known as the Great Writ. We inherited “this powerful tool for . . . protect[ing] . . . individuals’ constitutional and statutory rights . . . from Great Britain,” which formalized it in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. In The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton argued that the Constitution should provide for the writ “in the most ample manner” because it served as a bulwark against “arbitrary methods of prosecuting pretended offenses [and] arbitrary punishments upon arbitrary convictions.”

The drafters of the Constitution imbedded it in Article I before adopting the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court has attested to the writ’s significance on many occasions. At different times, the Court has declared that habeas corpus is intended “to liberate an individual from unlawful imprisonment,” a procedure for “securing to the petitioners their constitutional rights,” and “the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom,” which if withdrawn, “risk[s] injury to an important interest in human liberty.” Most recently, the Court described the writ of habeas corpus as a “vital instrument” to securing “freedom from unlawful restraint,” such freedom being “a fundamental precept of liberty”.

And all of that would mean absolutely nothing if a bill currently in the state legislature were to pass. A bill, that in my view, comes dangerously close to an actual suspension of the writ in certain circumstances.

That such a bill is being considered by lawmakers is a monumental slap in the face to the very principles upon which the justice system in this country was built. The bill is born of a misbegotten belief that the courts in Connecticut are “overwhelmed” with “needless” and “repetitive” habeas petitions, whereby inmates [read: criminals/scum of the earth/them, not us] “abuse” the system. Putting aside the fact that the current pending habeas petitions represent a mere 10% or so of the incarcerated population [and an even smaller percentage of total convictions in the state], the idea that a State would be willing to eviscerate so fundamental a protection without the slightest trepidation is repugnant.

Making this proposal even more jarring is the granting of The Great Writ yesterday in a case where the two petitioners were found by the court to be actually innocent after 16 years in jail [make sure you read the decision by Judge Fuger]. If this bill were to pass, it would convert the sharp scythe that the Great Writ is meant to be into a limp sword of cardboard used in middle school productions.

Let us count the ways in which this bill sticks a big middle finger right through The Great Writ and the ways in which this will only generate more litigation and require more expenditure:

Clowning around in Georgia

Why is it always Georgia? The latest, via Volokh, from the Georgia Peach State:

The record in this case establishes that the prosecutor, in the final moments of her concluding argument on behalf of the State, “clicked” her fingers at  which signal one of the deputies in the courtroom turned out the lights and an associate prosecutor “popped out a cake out of a grocery bag” complete with eight candles, which were then lit with a lighter brought into the courtroom; the prosecutor and her associate then proceeded to sing to “dear Josef,”  i.e., the deceased victim, the celebratory words to “Happy Birthday.”

This was during the closing arguments of a murder trial, where a couple were charged with the death of their son Josef. The defense lawyer, apparently one of the “top 5 defense attorneys in Georgia” didn’t object. Sorry, Manny “Top 5 defense attorney in Georgia” Arora, but you’re an idiot. How any defense attorney worth the paper his degree was printed on could restrain himself from jumping up from his seat, and protesting the blatant appeal to jurors’ sympathies is beyond me. But maybe I don’t think this way:

Arora testified at the motion for new trial hearing that he made a strategic decision not to object to the “Happy Birthday” song during closing argument.  Specifically, Arora thought that the “Happy Brithday” song was so “preposterous,” “absurd,” and “over the top” that “it would turn the jurors off,” and that he should not call any more attention to it by objecting to it.

“Strategic decision” is the language that full-of-themselves lawyers hide behind when they realize that they’ve – to put it simply – royally screwed up, but don’t want to take the hit to their reputation. It’s also the language that courts use to coddle these lawyers. Anyone who’s ever honestly practiced criminal law and who puts the client’s interests before their own will see this for what it is: bullshit. But then again, I guess one doesn’t get invited to be “a legal analyst for Atlanta’s ESPN radio affiliate 680 The Fan and regional television show Sports Nite” and “a frequent guest on CNN, Fox News, ESPN” and be “quoted as a legal expert in the New York Times and USA Today” by admitting that they screwed the pooch while defending the liberty and freedom of two individuals. If you were a real lawyer, Manny “Top 5″ Arora, you’d admit your mistake and not hide behind a legal fiction.

What’s more disturbing is that the court approval of this argument is undermined by the instructions given to the jury by the trial court:

The sword: fall on it

Pride is a troublesome thing. It makes us lie, it makes us obfuscate and it makes us, ultimately, injure others. Lawyers’ pride is even worse, if that’s possible. We often forget that that our only goal should be to help the client, in whatever way possible, within the ethical boundaries of our profession. Yet the best of trial lawyers often become the worst witnesses in post-conviction proceedings, where the love of the client and the law and the desire to set wrongs right turn into sharply focused self-preservation.

The most irksome and often repeated testimony during post-conviction proceedings starts “I don’t recall the specifics of this case, but my general practice is…” followed by a lengthy statement of how the lawyer never does what it is alleged that he did.

And most post-conviction proceedings are nothing more than credibility battles between the trial attorney and the defendant. We all know who loses in that scenario. No longer protected by the cloak of innocence, every allegation made by a sentenced prisoner – a convict, a felon – is viewed with the most extreme skepticism and that distrust of his claims is further deepened when a seasoned trial attorney takes the stand with only goal in mind: saving his own pride hide.

Which is why it is heartwarming (in addition to being a great learning experience) to read opinions like this recent one from the 6th Circuit, where the court finds ineffective assistance of counsel for affirmative misadvice given to the client during the plea negotiation process:

First, petitioner’s attorney provided deficient performance. Counsel advised petitioner that he could not be convicted of assault with intent to commit  murder because the bullets entered the victim’s body below the waist. “The elements of assault with intent to commit murder are: (1) an assault, (2) with an  actual intent to kill, (3) which, if successful, would make the killing murder.” People v. Brown, 267 Mich. App. 141, 147, 703 N.W.2d 230, 236 (2005)  (quotations and footnote omitted). Thus, “in order to find a defendant guilty of this crime, it is necessary to find that there was an actual intent to kill.”  People v. Taylor, 422 Mich. 554, 567, 375 N.W.2d 1, 7 (1985) (citations omitted). Petitioner’s counsel advised him that because the victim was injured below  the waist, the prosecution could not establish the element of intent. Counsel was wrong. The nature of the victim’s wounds are not a dispositive  consideration in determining whether the accused possessed an intent to kill.

The court recounts this advice from counsel to the petitioner as if it were accepted. The Michigan Court of Appeals decision does not describe the testimony presented, but whether it was by way of an affidavit signed by trial counsel or live testimony from him, it is clear that no court would simply have accepted petitioner’s word that this is what his lawyer advised him. The 6th circuit goes on to find that this was deficient performance and then, relying on Padilla v. Kentucky, finds that this did indeed prejudice the petitioner because it caused him to reject a great offer from the State:

The Strickland framework for evaluating counsel ineffectiveness applies to advice regarding whether to plead guilty. Padilla v. Kentucky, — S. Ct. —-, 2010  WL 1222274 (2010); Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58-59 (1985). The deficiency portion of the test remains unchanged. Instead of focusing on the fairness of  the trial, the prejudice component “focuses on whether counsel’s constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea process.” Id. at  59. If petitioner pleaded guilty, then petitioner “must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded  guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Id. If petitioner chooses to reject a plea offer, on the other hand, he must show a “reasonable probability  that, but for his counsel’s erroneous advice . . . he would have accepted the state’s plea offer.” Magana v. Hofbauer, 263 F.3d 542, 551 (6th Cir. 2001).

Clearly, a defendant who is erroneously advised by his lawyer that he should reject the offer because the State cannot prove the elements of the crime against him is prejudiced when in fact they can and do. The petitioner’s conviction is vacated and the matter remanded to the trial court with directions that he be given the opportunity to accept the offer anew – basic contract principles and Santobello v. New York reasoning.

But the lesson here is that this Constitutional violation would not have been remedied were it not for trial counsel stepping up to the plate and admitting his mistake (yes, technically I’m assuming this occurred, but realistically I see no other way for it to have happened). In the end, that should always be our goal: to assist our clients in any way possible and to remedy any constitutional violation that occurs due to our mishandling of a case.

After all, we don’t spend the decades in prison. Our clients do. They deserve our honesty.