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quarta-feira, 21 de março de 2012

Supreme Court Lays Out New Plea Bargain Standards


WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Supreme Court on Wednesday laid out new standards for criminal plea bargains, saying defense lawyers must do a competent job advising and informing their clients of prosecutors' offers of less prison time for convictions and guilty pleas.
Justice Antonin Scalia, in a rare move, dissented aloud from the bench, calling the decisions "absurd" and warning courts would be flooded with appeals from criminals now claiming their plea bargain rights were violated, despite the fact that there is no legal right to a plea bargain.
"The court today embraces the sporting chance theory of criminal law, in which the state functions like a conscientious casino operator, giving each player a fair chance to beat the house, that is, serve less time than the law says he deserves. And when a player is excluded from the tables, his constitutional rights have been violated," Scalia said.
The two opinions, both written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, have the potential to affect thousands of criminal cases with the Justice Department reporting that 97 percent of federal convictions and 94 percent of state convictions in 2009 were the result of a guilty plea.
The decisions laid out by Kennedy means that criminal defense lawyers are now required to inform their clients of plea bargain offers, regardless of whether they think the client should accept them, and must give their clients good advice on whether to accept a plea bargain at all stages of prosecution.
In the cases before the court, Galin Edward Frye was never told by his lawyer about plea bargain offers from Missouri before he pleaded guilty to driving with a revoked license before his trial. In the second case, Blaine Lafler rejected a plea offer on the advice of his lawyer, and then was convicted of assault with intent to murder and other charges and sentenced after a jury trial in Michigan.
In both cases, Kennedy sent the convictions back down to the lower courts because the actions of the lawyers equal unconstitutional ineffective assistance of counsel.
"This court now holds that, as a general rule, defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused," Kennedy said. "... When the defense counsel allowed the offer to expire without advising the defendant or allowing him to consider it, defense counsel did not render the effective assistance the Constitution requires."
In the second case, "if a plea bargain has been offered, a defendant has the right to effective assistance of counsel in considering whether to accept it," Kennedy said. "If that right is denied, prejudice can be shown if loss of the plea opportunity led to a trial resulting in a conviction on more serious charges or the imposition of a more severe sentence."
Kennedy was joined in both opinions by the court's liberals, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
In Frye's case, a lower court will have to decide whether prosecutors would have been required to stick to their offer to Galin Edward Frye, because he was rearrested on the same charge of driving with a revoked license before his preliminary hearing.
Kennedy said Michigan prosecutors should offer Cooper his plea bargain for a prison term of around seven years again, with a lower court judge ruling on whether to vacate some or all of his convictions, or do nothing about his 15-to-30 year sentence.
Scalia was joined in full or in part in both dissents by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Samuel Alito joined Scalia's dissent in the Frye case and wrote his own dissent in Cooper.
"In today's cases, the court's zeal to bring perfection to everything requires the reversal of perfectly valid, eminently just convictions," Scalia said. "It is not wise; it is not right."

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