MISSOURI v. FRYE
Missouri prosecutors offered Galin Edward Frye two deals while seeking his conviction for driving while his license was revoked, but his lawyer never told Frye about the offers. Frye pleaded guilty to a felony charge and was sentenced to three years in prison. He appealed, saying his lawyer should have told him about the previous deals. A Missouri appeals court agreed. Prosecutors contend that not knowing about the deals they offered doesn't mean that Frye didn't know what he was doing when he decided to plead guilty.
Can a defendant who validly pleads guilty assert a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel by alleging that, but for counsel's error in failing to communicate a plea offer, he would have pleaded guilty with more favorable terms?
Legal provision: Sixth Amendment
Yes. In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment requires defense attorneys to communicate formal plea offers from the prosecution. Justice Kennedy looked to Hill v. Lockhart and Padilla v. Kentucky; in both cases, a prisoner claimed his guilty plea was invalid because counsel provided incorrect advice pertinent to the plea. While acknowledging that a defendant has no right to receive a plea offer, Justice Kennedy noted that the vast majority of both federal and state convictions are the result of guilty pleas. Justice Kennedy finally held that Frye must show a reasonable probability he would have accepted the initial plea and that neither the prosecution nor the trial court would have prevented the offer from being accepted or implemented.
Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito, dissented. Justice Scalia argued that Frye was not denied his constitutional right to a fair trial because counsel’s mistake did not deprive him of any substantive or procedural right. He further questioned the speculative nature of the majority’s tests for effective counsel in plea bargaining.
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
MISSOURI, PETITIONER v. GALIN E. FRYE
on writ of certiorari to the court of appeals of missouri, western district
[March 21, 2012]
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Sixth Amendment, applicable to the States by the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that the accused shall have the assistance of counsel in all criminal prosecutions. The right to counsel is the right to effective assistance of counsel. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 686 (1984) . This case arises in the context of claimed ineffective assistance that led to the lapse of a prosecution offer of a plea bargain, a proposal that offered terms more lenient than the terms of the guilty plea entered later. The initial question is whether the constitutional right to counsel extends to the negotiation and consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected. If there is a right to effective assistance with respect to those offers, a further question is what a defendant must demonstrate in order to show that prejudice resulted from counsel’s deficient performance. Other questions relating to ineffective assistance with respect to plea offers, including the question of proper remedies, are considered in a second case decided today. See Lafler v. Cooper, post, at 3–16.I
In August 2007, respondent Galin Frye was charged with driving with a revoked license. Frye had been convicted for that offense on three other occasions, so the State of Missouri charged him with a class D felony, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of four years. See Mo. Rev. Stat. §§302.321.2, 558.011.1(4) (2011).
On November 15, the prosecutor sent a letter to Frye’s counsel offering a choice of two plea bargains. App. 50. The prosecutor first offered to recommend a 3-year sentence if there was a guilty plea to the felony charge, without a recommendation regarding probation but with a recommendation that Frye serve 10 days in jail as so-called “shock” time. The second offer was to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor and, if Frye pleaded guilty to it, to recommend a 90-day sentence. The misdemeanor charge of driving with a revoked license carries a maximum term of imprisonment of one year. 311 S. W. 3d 350, 360 (Mo. App. 2010). The letter stated both offers would expire on December 28. Frye’s attorney did not advise Frye that the offers had been made. The offers expired. Id., at 356.
Frye’s preliminary hearing was scheduled for January 4, 2008. On December 30, 2007, less than a week before the hearing, Frye was again arrested for driving with a revoked license. App. 47–48, 311 S. W. 3d, at 352–353. At the January 4 hearing, Frye waived his right to a preliminary hearing on the charge arising from the August 2007 arrest. He pleaded not guilty at a subsequent arraignment but then changed his plea to guilty. There was no underlying plea agreement. App. 5, 13, 16. The state trial court accepted Frye’s guilty plea. Id., at 21. The prosecutor recommended a 3-year sentence, made no recommendation regarding probation, and requested 10 days shock time in jail. Id., at 22. The trial judge sentenced Frye to three years in prison. Id., at 21, 23.
Frye filed for postconviction relief in state court. Id., at 8, 25–29. He alleged his counsel’s failure to inform him of the prosecution’s plea offer denied him the effective assistance of counsel. At an evidentiary hearing, Frye testified he would have entered a guilty plea to the misdemeanor had he known about the offer. Id., at 34.
A state court denied the postconviction motion, id., at 52–57, but the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed, 311 S. W. 3d 350. It determined that Frye met both of the requirements for showing a Sixth Amendment violation under Strickland. First, the court determined Frye’s counsel’s performance was deficient because the “record is void of any evidence of any effort by trial counsel to communicate the Offer to Frye during the Offer window.” 311 S. W. 3d, at 355, 356 (emphasis deleted). The court next concluded Frye had shown his counsel’s deficient performance caused him prejudice because “Frye pled guilty to a felony instead of a misdemeanor and was subject to a maximum sentence of four years instead of one year.” Id., at 360.
To implement a remedy for the violation, the court deemed Frye’s guilty plea withdrawn and remanded to allow Frye either to insist on a trial or to plead guilty to any offense the prosecutor deemed it appropriate to charge. This Court granted certiorari. 562 U. S. ___ (2011).II A
It is well settled that the right to the effective assistance of counsel applies to certain steps before trial. The “ Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to have counsel present at all ‘critical’ stages of the criminal proceedings.” Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U. S. 778, 786 (2009) (quoting United States v. Wade, 388 U. S. 218 –228 (1967)). Critical stages include arraignments, postindictment interrogations, postindictment lineups, and the entry of a guilty plea. See Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U. S. 52 (1961) (arraignment); Massiah v. United States, 377 U. S. 201 (1964) (postindictment interrogation); Wade, supra (postindictment lineup); Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U. S. 25 (1972) (guilty plea).
With respect to the right to effective counsel in plea negotiations, a proper beginning point is to discuss two cases from this Court considering the role of counsel in advising a client about a plea offer and an ensuing guilty plea: Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U. S. 52 (1985) ; and Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U. S. ___(2010).
Hill established that claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in the plea bargain context are governed by the two-part test set forth in Strickland. See Hill, supra, at 57. As noted above, in Frye’s case, the Missouri Court of Appeals, applying the two part test of Strickland, determined first that defense counsel had been ineffective and second that there was resulting prejudice.
In Hill, the decision turned on the second part of the Strickland test. There, a defendant who had entered a guilty plea claimed his counsel had misinformed him of the amount of time he would have to serve before he became eligible for parole. But the defendant had not alleged that, even if adequate advice and assistance had been given, he would have elected to plead not guilty and proceed to trial. Thus, the Court found that no prejudice from the inadequate advice had been shown or alleged. Hill, supra, at 60.
In Padilla, the Court again discussed the duties of counsel in advising a client with respect to a plea offer that leads to a guilty plea. Padilla held that a guilty plea, based on a plea offer, should be set aside because counsel misinformed the defendant of the immigration consequences of the conviction. The Court made clear that “the negotiation of a plea bargain is a critical phase of litigation for purposes of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.” 559 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 16). It also rejected the argument made by petitioner in this case that a knowing and voluntary plea supersedes errors by defense counsel. Cf. Brief for Respondent in Padilla v. Kentucky, O. T. 2009, No. 08–651, p. 27 (arguing Sixth Amendment’s assurance of effective assistance “does not extend to collateral aspects of the prosecution” because “knowledge of the consequences that are collateral to the guilty plea is not a prerequisite to the entry of a knowing and intelligent plea”).
In the case now before the Court the State, as petitioner, points out that the legal question presented is different from that in Hill and Padilla. In those cases the claim was that the prisoner’s plea of guilty was invalid because counsel had provided incorrect advice pertinent to the plea. In the instant case, by contrast, the guilty plea that was accepted, and the plea proceedings concerning it in court, were all based on accurate advice and information from counsel. The challenge is not to the advice pertaining to the plea that was accepted but rather to the course of legal representation that preceded it with respect to other potential pleas and plea offers.
To give further support to its contention that the instant case is in a category different from what the Court considered in Hill and Padilla, the State urges that there is no right to a plea offer or a plea bargain in any event. See Weatherford v. Bursey, 429 U. S. 545, 561 (1977) . It claims Frye therefore was not deprived of any legal benefit to which he was entitled. Under this view, any wrongful or mistaken action of counsel with respect to earlier plea offers is beside the point.
The State is correct to point out that Hill and Padilla concerned whether there was ineffective assistance leading to acceptance of a plea offer, a process involving a formal court appearance with the defendant and all counsel present. Before a guilty plea is entered the defendant’s understanding of the plea and its consequences can be established on the record. This affords the State substantial protection against later claims that the plea was the result of inadequate advice. At the plea entry proceedings the trial court and all counsel have the opportunity to establish on the record that the defendant understands the process that led to any offer, the advantages and disadvantages of accepting it, and the sentencing consequences or possibilities that will ensue once a conviction is entered based upon the plea. See, e.g., Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 11; Mo. Sup. Ct. Rule 24.02 (2004). Hill and Padilla both illustrate that, nevertheless, there may be instances when claims of ineffective assistance can arise after the conviction is entered. Still, the State, and the trial court itself, have had a substantial opportunity to guard against this contingency by establishing at the plea entry proceeding that the defendant has been given proper advice or, if the advice received appears to have been inadequate, to remedy that deficiency before the plea is accepted and the conviction entered.
When a plea offer has lapsed or been rejected, however, no formal court proceedings are involved. This underscores that the plea-bargaining process is often in flux, with no clear standards or timelines and with no judicial supervision of the discussions between prosecution and defense. Indeed, discussions between client and defense counsel are privileged. So the prosecution has little or no notice if something may be amiss and perhaps no capacity to intervene in any event. And, as noted, the State insists there is no right to receive a plea offer. For all these reasons, the State contends, it is unfair to subject it to the consequences of defense counsel’s inadequacies, especially when the opportunities for a full and fair trial, or, as here, for a later guilty plea albeit on less favorable terms, are preserved.
The State’s contentions are neither illogical nor without some persuasive force, yet they do not suffice to overcome a simple reality. Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas. See Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics Online, Table 5.22.2009, http://www.albany.edu/ sourcebook/pdf/t5222009.pdf (all Internet materials as visited Mar. 1, 2012, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file); Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, S. Rosenmerkel, M. Durose, & D. Farole, Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2006-Statistical Tables, p. 1 (NCJ226846, rev. Nov. 2010), http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/ fssc06st.pdf; Padilla, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 15) (recognizing pleas account for nearly 95% of all criminal convictions). 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.” Scott & Stuntz, Plea Bargaining as Contract, 101 Yale L. J. 1909, 1912 (1992). See also Barkow, Separation of Powers and the Criminal Law, 58 Stan. L. Rev. 989, 1034 (2006) (“[Defendants] who do take their case to trial and lose receive longer sentences than even Congress or the prosecutor might think appropriate, because the longer sentences exist on the books largely for bargaining purposes. This often results in individuals who accept a plea bargain receiving shorter sentences than other individuals who are less morally culpable but take a chance and go to trial” (footnote omitted)). In today’s criminal justice system, therefore, the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant.
To note the prevalence of plea bargaining is not to criticize it. The potential to conserve valuable prosecutorial resources and for defendants to admit their crimes and receive more favorable terms at sentencing means that a plea agreement can benefit both parties. In order that these benefits can be realized, however, criminal defendants require effective counsel during plea negotiations. “Anything less . . . might deny a defendant ‘effective representation by counsel at the only stage when legal aid and advice would help him.’ ” Massiah, 377 U. S., at 204 (quoting Spano v. New York, 360 U. S. 315, 326 (1959) (Douglas, J., concurring)).B
The inquiry then becomes how to define the duty and responsibilities of defense counsel in the plea bargain process. This is a difficult question. “The art of negotiation is at least as nuanced as the art of trial advocacy and it presents questions farther removed from immediate judicial supervision.” Premo v. Moore, 562 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 8–9). Bargaining is, by its nature, defined to a substantial degree by personal style. The alternative courses and tactics in negotiation are so individual that it may be neither prudent nor practicable to try to elaborate or define detailed standards for the proper discharge of defense counsel’s participation in the process. Cf. ibid.
This case presents neither the necessity nor the occasion to define the duties of defense counsel in those respects, however. Here the question is whether defense counsel has the duty to communicate the terms of a formal offer to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may result in a lesser sentence, a conviction on lesser charges, or both.
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. Any exceptions to that rule need not be explored here, for the offer was a formal one with a fixed expiration date. When 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.
Though the standard for counsel’s performance is not determined solely by reference to codified standards of professional practice, these standards can be important guides. The American Bar Association recommends defense counsel “promptly communicate and explain to the defendant all plea offers made by the prosecuting attorney,” ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Pleas of Guilty 14–3.2(a) (3d ed. 1999), and this standard has been adopted by numerous state and federal courts over the last 30 years. See, e.g., Davie v. State, 381 S. C. 601, 608–609, 675 S. E. 2d 416, 420 (2009); Cottle v. State, 733 So. 2d 963, 965–966 (Fla. 1999); Becton v. Hun, 205 W. Va. 139, 144, 516 S. E. 2d 762, 767 (1999); Harris v. State, 875 S. W. 2d 662, 665 (Tenn. 1994); Lloyd v. State, 258 Ga. 645, 648, 373 S. E. 2d 1, 3 (1988); United States v. Rodriguez Rodriguez, 929 F. 2d 747, 752 (CA1 1991) (per curiam); Pham v. United States, 317 F. 3d 178, 182 (CA2 2003); United States ex rel. Caruso v. Zelinsky, 689 F. 2d 435, 438 (CA3 1982); Griffin v. United States, 330 F. 3d 733, 737 (CA6 2003); Johnson v. Duckworth, 793 F. 2d 898, 902 (CA7 1986); United States v. Blaylock, 20 F. 3d 1458, 1466 (CA9 1994); cf. Diaz v. United States, 930 F. 2d 832, 834 (CA11 1991). The standard for prompt communication and consultation is also set out in state bar professional standards for attorneys. See, e.g., Fla. Rule Regulating Bar 4–1.4 (2008); Ill. Rule Prof. Conduct 1.4 (2011); Kan. Rule Prof. Conduct 1.4 (2010); Ky. Sup. Ct. Rule 3.130, Rule Prof. Conduct 1.4 (2011); Mass. Rule Prof. Conduct 1.4 (2011–2012); Mich. Rule Prof. Conduct 1.4 (2011).
The prosecution and the trial courts may adopt some measures to help ensure against late, frivolous, or fabricated claims after a later, less advantageous plea offer has been accepted or after a trial leading to conviction with resulting harsh consequences. First, the fact of a formal offer means that its terms and its processing can be documented so that what took place in the negotiation process becomes more clear if some later inquiry turns on the conduct of earlier pretrial negotiations. Second, States may elect to follow rules that all offers must be in writing, again to ensure against later misunderstandings or fabricated charges. See N. J. Ct. Rule 3:9–1(b) (2012) (“Any plea offer to be made by the prosecutor shall be in writing and forwarded to the defendant’s attorney”). Third, formal offers can be made part of the record at any subsequent plea proceeding or before a trial on the merits, all to ensure that a defendant has been fully advised before those further proceedings commence. At least one State often follows a similar procedure before trial. See Brief for National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. as Amici Curiae 20 (discussing hearings in Arizona conducted pursuant to State v. Donald, 198 Ariz. 406, 10 P. 3d 1193 (App. 2000)); see also N. J. Ct. Rules 3:9–1(b), (c) (requiring the prosecutor and defense counsel to discuss the case prior to the arraignment/status conference including any plea offers and to report on these discussions in open court with the defendant present); In re Alvernaz, 2 Cal. 4th 924, 938, n. 7, 830 P. 2d 747, 756, n. 7 (1992) (encouraging parties to “memorialize in some fashion prior to trial (1) the fact that a plea bargain offer was made, and (2) that the defendant was advised of the offer [and] its precise terms, . . . and (3) the defendant’s response to the plea bargain offer”); Brief for Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, New York University School of Law as Amicus Curiae 25–27.
Here defense counsel did not communicate the formal offers to the defendant. As a result of that deficient performance, the offers lapsed. Under Strickland, the question then becomes what, if any, prejudice resulted from the breach of duty.C
To show prejudice from ineffective assistance of counsel where a plea offer has lapsed or been rejected because of counsel’s deficient performance, defendants must demonstrate a reasonable probability they would have accepted the earlier plea offer had they been afforded effective assistance of counsel. Defendants must also demonstrate a reasonable probability the plea would have been entered without the prosecution canceling it or the trial court refusing to accept it, if they had the authority to exercise that discretion under state law. To establish prejudice in this instance, it is necessary to show a reasonable probability that the end result of the criminal process would have been more favorable by reason of a plea to a lesser charge or a sentence of less prison time. Cf. Glover v. United States, 531 U. S. 198, 203 (2001) (“[A]ny amount of [additional] jail time has Sixth Amendment significance”).
This application of Strickland to the instances of an uncommunicated, lapsed plea does nothing to alter the standard laid out in Hill. In cases where a defendant complains that ineffective assistance led him to accept a plea offer as opposed to proceeding to trial, the defendant will have to show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill, 474 U. S., at 59. Hill was correctly decided and applies in the context in which it arose. Hill does not, however, provide the sole means for demonstrating prejudice arising from the deficient performance of counsel during plea negotiations. Unlike the defendant in Hill, Frye argues that with effective assistance he would have accepted an earlier plea offer (limiting his sentence to one year in prison) as opposed to entering an open plea (exposing him to a maximum sentence of four years’ imprisonment). In a case, such as this, where a defendant pleads guilty to less favorable terms and claims that ineffective assistance of counsel caused him to miss out on a more favorable earlier plea offer, Strickland’s inquiry into whether “the result of the proceeding would have been different,” 466 U. S., at 694, requires looking not at whether the defendant would have proceeded to trial absent ineffective assistance but whether he would have accepted the offer to plead pursuant to the terms earlier proposed.
In order to complete a showing of Strickland prejudice, defendants who have shown a reasonable probability they would have accepted the earlier plea offer must also show that, if the prosecution had the discretion to cancel it or if the trial court had the discretion to refuse to accept it, there is a reasonable probability neither the prosecution nor the trial court would have prevented the offer from being accepted or implemented. This further showing is of particular importance because a defendant has no right to be offered a plea, see Weatherford, 429 U. S., at 561, nor a federal right that the judge accept it, Santobello v. New York, 404 U. S. 257, 262 (1971) . In at least some States, including Missouri, it appears the prosecution has some discretion to cancel a plea agreement to which the defendant has agreed, see, e.g., 311 S. W. 3d, at 359 (case below); Ariz. Rule Crim. Proc. 17.4(b) (Supp. 2011). The Federal Rules, some state rules including in Missouri, and this Court’s precedents give trial courts some leeway to accept or reject plea agreements, see Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 11(c)(3); see Mo. Sup. Ct. Rule 24.02(d)(4); Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U. S. 238 –244 (1969). It can be assumed that in most jurisdictions prosecutors and judges are familiar with the boundaries of acceptable plea bargains and sentences. So in most instances it should not be difficult to make an objective assessment as to whether or not a particular fact or intervening circumstance would suffice, in the normal course, to cause prosecutorial withdrawal or judicial nonapproval of a plea bargain. The determination that there is or is not a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceeding would have been different absent counsel’s errors can be conducted within that framework.III
These standards must be applied to the instant case. As regards the deficient performance prong of Strickland, the Court of Appeals found the “record is void of any evidence of any effort by trial counsel to communicate the [formal] Offer to Frye during the Offer window, let alone any evidence that Frye’s conduct interfered with trial counsel’s ability to do so.” 311 S. W. 3d, at 356. On this record, it is evident that Frye’s attorney did not make a meaningful attempt to inform the defendant of a written plea offer before the offer expired. See supra, at 2. The Missouri Court of Appeals was correct that “counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Strickland, supra, at 688.
The Court of Appeals erred, however, in articulating the precise standard for prejudice in this context. As noted, a defendant in Frye’s position must show not only a reasonable probability that he would have accepted the lapsed plea but also a reasonable probability that the prosecution would have adhered to the agreement and that it would have been accepted by the trial court. Frye can show he would have accepted the offer, but there is strong reason to doubt the prosecution and the trial court would have permitted the plea bargain to become final.
There appears to be a reasonable probability Frye would have accepted the prosecutor’s original offer of a plea bargain if the offer had been communicated to him, because he pleaded guilty to a more serious charge, with no promise of a sentencing recommendation from the prosecutor. It may be that in some cases defendants must show more than just a guilty plea to a charge or sentence harsher than the original offer. For example, revelations between plea offers about the strength of the prosecution’s case may make a late decision to plead guilty insufficient to demonstrate, without further evidence, that the defendant would have pleaded guilty to an earlier, more generous plea offer if his counsel had reported it to him. Here, however, that is not the case. The Court of Appeals did not err in finding Frye’s acceptance of the less favorable plea offer indicated that he would have accepted the earlier (and more favorable) offer had he been apprised of it; and there is no need to address here the showings that might be required in other cases.
The Court of Appeals failed, however, to require Frye to show that the first plea offer, if accepted by Frye, would have been adhered to by the prosecution and accepted by the trial court. Whether the prosecution and trial court are required to do so is a matter of state law, and it is not the place of this Court to settle those matters. The Court has established the minimum requirements of the Sixth Amendment as interpreted in Strickland, and States have the discretion to add procedural protections under state law if they choose. A State may choose to preclude the prosecution from withdrawing a plea offer once it has been accepted or perhaps to preclude a trial court from rejecting a plea bargain. In Missouri, it appears “a plea offer once accepted by the defendant can be withdrawn without recourse” by the prosecution. 311 S. W. 3d, at 359. The extent of the trial court’s discretion in Missouri to reject a plea agreement appears to be in some doubt. Compare id., at 360, with Mo. Sup. Ct. Rule 24.02(d)(4).
We remand for the Missouri Court of Appeals to consider these state-law questions, because they bear on the federal question of Strickland prejudice. If, as the Missouri court stated here, the prosecutor could have canceled the plea agreement, and if Frye fails to show a reasonable probability the prosecutor would have adhered to the agreement, there is no Strickland prejudice. Likewise, if the trial court could have refused to accept the plea agreement, and if Frye fails to show a reasonable probability the trial court would have accepted the plea, there is no Strickland prejudice. In this case, given Frye’s new offense for driving without a license on December 30, 2007, there is reason to doubt that the prosecution would have adhered to the agreement or that the trial court would have accepted it at the January 4, 2008, hearing, unless they were required by state law to do so.
It is appropriate to allow the Missouri Court of Appeals to address this question in the first instance. The judgment of the Missouri Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
MISSOURI, PETITIONER v. GALIN E. FRYE
on writ of certiorari to the court of appeals of missouri, western district
[March 21, 2012]
Justice Scalia, with whom The Chief Justice, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito join, dissenting.
This is a companion case to Lafler v. Cooper, post, p. ___. The principal difference between the cases is that the fairness of the defendant’s conviction in Lafler was established by a full trial and jury verdict, whereas Frye’s conviction here was established by his own admission of guilt, received by the court after the usual colloquy that assured it was voluntary and truthful. In Lafler all that could be said (and as I discuss there it was quite enough) is that the fairness of the conviction was clear, though a unanimous jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt can sometimes be wrong. Here it can be said not only that the process was fair, but that the defendant acknowledged the correctness of his conviction. Thus, as far as the reasons for my dissent are concerned, this is an a fortiori case. I will not repeat here the constitutional points that I discuss at length in Lafler, but I will briefly apply those points to the facts here and comment upon a few statements in the Court’s analysis.* * *
Galin Frye’s attorney failed to inform him about a plea offer, and Frye ultimately pleaded guilty without the benefit of a deal. Counsel’s mistake did not deprive Frye of any substantive or procedural right; only of the opportunity to accept a plea bargain to which he had no entitlement in the first place. So little entitlement that, had he known of and accepted the bargain, the prosecution would have been able to withdraw it right up to the point that his guilty plea pursuant to the bargain was accepted. See 311 S. W. 3d 350, 359, and n. 4 (Mo. App. 2010).
The Court acknowledges, moreover, that Frye’s conviction was untainted by attorney error: “[T]he guilty plea that was accepted, and the plea proceedings concerning it in court, were all based on accurate advice and information from counsel.” Ante, at 5. Given the “ultimate focus” of our ineffective-assistance cases on “the fundamental fairness of the proceeding whose result is being challenged,” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 696 (1984) , that should be the end of the matter. Instead, here, as in Lafler, the Court mechanically applies an outcome-based test for prejudice, and mistakes the possibility of a different result for constitutional injustice. As I explain in Lafler, post, p. ___ (dissenting opinion), that approach is contrary to our precedents on the right to effective counsel, and for good reason.
The Court announces its holding that “as a general rule, defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution” as though that resolves a disputed point; in reality, however, neither the State nor the Solicitor General argued that counsel’s performance here was adequate. Ante, at 9. The only issue was whether the inadequacy deprived Frye of his constitutional right to a fair trial. In other cases, however, it will not be so clear that counsel’s plea-bargaining skills, which must now meet a constitutional minimum, are adequate. “[H]ow to define the duty and responsibilities of defense counsel in the plea bargain process,” the Court acknowledges, “is a difficult question,” since “[b]argaining is, by its nature, defined to a substantial degree by personal style.” Ante, at 8. Indeed. What if an attorney’s “personal style” is to establish a reputation as a hard bargainer by, for example, advising clients to proceed to trial rather than accept anything but the most favorable plea offers? It seems inconceivable that a lawyer could compromise his client’s constitutional rights so that he can secure better deals for other clients in the future; does a hard-bargaining “personal style” now violate the Sixth Amendment? The Court ignores such difficulties, however, since “[t]his case presents neither the necessity nor the occasion to define the duties of defense counsel in those respects.” Ante, at 8. Perhaps not. But it does present the necessity of confronting the serious difficulties that will be created by constitutionalization of the plea-bargaining process. It will not do simply to announce that they will be solved in the sweet by-and-by.
While the inadequacy of counsel’s performance in this case is clear enough, whether it was prejudicial (in the sense that the Court’s new version of Strickland requires) is not. The Court’s description of how that question is to be answered on remand is alone enough to show how unwise it is to constitutionalize the plea-bargaining process. Prejudice is to be determined, the Court tells us, by a process of retrospective crystal-ball gazing posing as legal analysis. First of all, of course, we must estimate whether the defendant would have accepted the earlier plea bargain. Here that seems an easy question, but as the Court acknowledges, ante, at 14, it will not always be. Next, since Missouri, like other States, permits accepted plea offers to be withdrawn by the prosecution (a reality which alone should suffice, one would think, to demonstrate that Frye had no entitlement to the plea bargain), we must estimate whether the prosecution would have withdrawn the plea offer. And finally, we must estimate whether the trial court would have approved the plea agreement. These last two estimations may seem easy in the present case, since Frye committed a new infraction before the hearing at which the agreement would have been presented; but they assuredly will not be easy in the mine run of cases.
The Court says “[i]t can be assumed that in most jurisdictions prosecutors and judges are familiar with the boundaries of acceptable plea bargains and sentences.” Ante, at 13. Assuredly it can, just as it can be assumed that the sun rises in the west; but I know of no basis for the assumption. Virtually no cases deal with the standards for a prosecutor’s withdrawal from a plea agreement beyond stating the general rule that a prosecutor may withdraw any time prior to, but not after, the entry of a guilty plea or other action constituting detrimental reliance on the defendant’s part. See, e.g., United States v. Kuchinski, 469 F. 3d 853, 857–858 (CA9 2006). And cases addressing trial courts’ authority to accept or reject plea agreements almost universally observe that a trial court enjoys broad discretion in this regard. See, e.g., Missouri v. Banks, 135 S. W. 3d 497, 500 (Mo. App. 2004) (trial court abuses its discretion in rejecting a plea only if the decision “is so arbitrary and unreasonable that it shocks the sense of justice and indicates a lack of careful consideration” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Of course after today’s opinions there will be cases galore, so the Court’s assumption would better be cast as an optimistic prediction of the certainty that will emerge, many years hence, from our newly created constitutional field of plea-bargaining law. Whatever the “boundaries” ultimately devised (if that were possible), a vast amount of discretion will still remain, and it is extraordinary to make a defendant’s constitutional rights depend upon a series of retrospective mind-readings as to how that discretion, in prosecutors and trial judges, would have been exercised.
The plea-bargaining process is a subject worthy of regulation, since it is the means by which most criminal convictions are obtained. It happens not to be, however, a subject covered by the Sixth Amendment, which is concerned not with the fairness of bargaining but with the fairness of conviction. “The Constitution . . . is not an all-purpose tool for judicial construction of a perfect world; and when we ignore its text in order to make it that, we often find ourselves swinging a sledge where a tack hammer is needed.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 1). In this case and its companion, the Court’s sledge may require the reversal of perfectly valid, eminently just, convictions. A legislature could solve the problems presented by these cases in a much more precise and efficient manner. It might begin, for example, by penalizing the attorneys who made such grievous errors. That type of sub-constitutional remedy is not available to the Court, which is limited to penalizing (almost) everyone else by reversing valid convictions or sentences. Because that result is inconsistent with the Sixth Amendment and decades of our precedent, I respectfully dissent.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF CHRIS KOSTER ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: We will hear argument next in Case 10-444, Missouri v. Frye.
Mr. Koster: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
But for counsel's error, defendant would have insisted on going to trial.
That is the test for prejudice.
But in Mr. Frye's case, that test was not met.
The truth is, despite counsel's error, Mr. Frye knowingly waived his right to trial, and solemnly admitted his guilt.
Under both Hill and Premo, Mr. Frye has failed to show prejudice, and therefore his guilty plea remains voluntary, intelligent, and final.
Mr. Frye may not assert ineffective assistance by alleging that, but for counsel's error, he could have gotten a better deal on an earlier date.
That is not the standard.
And the court of appeals should be reversed.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Counsel, sometimes one's experience has to be challenged.
I for one have never heard of a case in which parties are discussing a plea, except in the most unusual of circumstances, and they advance a court date to enter the plea.
In most cases, they just wait until the court date and tell the judge: I'm ready to plead guilty.
This is such an unusual case, because the plea happens on day 1.
The courts below is assuming that between day 1 and day 5, or 3 or 4, the guy would have come in and pled guilty, would have advanced the later court date?
Mr. Koster: Well, the plea -- the plea occurred on March 3, 2008--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: No, that's the second plea.
Mr. Koster: --It went -- right.
The plea offer--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: I'm talking about the plea--
Mr. Koster: --The plea offer expired on December 28, 2007, I believe.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: --He commits the crime on the 29th or the 30th.
He commits a second offense on the 29th or 30th?
Mr. Koster: That actually was the fifth offense, but yes.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: All right.
My -- my point is, how reasonable could it be for the -- for a court to assume that the plea offer had been made and that he would have taken it before the January court date that was set?
Mr. Koster: It would be less than likely, but not impossible, I would say.
And it would depend on a myriad of circumstances, many of which are as -- as -- could be just dependent on the defense counsel's own personal schedule.
But the scheduling of a plea once -- once an agreement has been made between a prosecutor and a defense counsel, the scheduling of a plea I think is largely a basis of convenience and does not necessarily -- is not necessarily based on the preliminary hearing date or any future schedule date.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: I suppose the defendant might think, you know, there is really bad evidence out there that they don't have yet.
And if I -- I want to nail this deal down as soon as possible.
I mean, that would be a reason to -- to move things up and get the plea in early, wouldn't it?
Mr. Koster: It could be.
I would say that that is--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: I mean, I don't know how often that happens.
Mr. Koster: --That is possible.
But it's also exactly another reason to keep the discretion of offering these plea bargains, and the ability to take these plea bargains back solely in the hands of the prosecutors in the country.
Justice Samuel Alito: I am really puzzled by what as a practical matter is at stake in this case.
Under the State court decision, the defendant has the option of either pleading guilty to the charge -- in which case he will be right back where he is now -- or he can insist on a trial.
If he insists on the trial, you need to prove that he was driving with a revoked license.
That seems to me -- if there ever was a slam dunk trial, that seems to me that's the slam dunk trial.
You introduce the records of -- showing that his license was revoked, and you have the officer testify that on such and such a date, he was driving.
So I -- I don't really see what is involved in this case.
Mr. Koster: The last part of the question is?
Justice Samuel Alito: I don't see what is at stake here.
I don't see what that -- as a practical matter, this seems to be -- to me a case about nothing.
Am I wrong?
Am I missing something?
Mr. Koster: As a former -- as a former prosecutor myself, I would agree with this.
This gentleman went into court.
He had two options before him.
There was not a third option.
The -- the plea that was -- that left reality on December 28 was not there on March 3.
He had a binary choice between two options on March 3.
He chose not trial.
By choosing not trial, it leaves us without a situation where either Hill or Premo prejudice can be shown.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: But we take the case on the assumption that he hadn't heard of the earlier better offer.
Am I wrong about that?
Mr. Koster: In this case, the defendant was unaware of the earlier better offer.
That is correct.
But in this case also, the defendant went out 2 days later and picked up a fifth charge.
So one of the considerations that I think has to be left with the Court is that the possibility that this particular defendant was ever going to see this plea offer is almost nil.
This was his fifth arrest for driving while revoked.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: I mean, we've got to be -- aren't we taking this on -- isn't there an assumption that there is a finding, or some lower court judge made a finding that if he had known about the better deal that was offered, he would have taken it?
Mr. Koster: That -- what is in the record is that he would have taken the 90-day deal on the misdemeanor.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Yes.
Mr. Koster: But there is also an important element in the record, that when he went in front of the court on March 3 and the felony offer was given to the judge, which was 3 years in deferral on probation plus 10 days shock time, the judge in Columbia, Missouri, gave the felony offer the back of his hand.
And so while, yes, the record says that--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: So that's a causal problem.
You are saying that, even if he had accepted it, it would have gone to the judge, and the judge would have turned it down anyway, the judge wouldn't have accepted it.
Mr. Koster: --If the judge--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Is that your point?
Mr. Koster: --Yes, Your Honor.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Well, then there's a -- somebody must have found somewhere that this made a difference, that the failure to tell him about the special offer of the misdemeanor did in fact make a difference because he would have accepted it and he would have ended up with it.
Mr. Koster: Well, and that is the problem that brings us here today.
The Missouri Court of Appeals said that--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Yes.
Mr. Koster: --Through a misrepresent -- a misinterpretation, we believe, of the Strickland standard and, more importantly, a misreading of where Hill and Premo takes us.
Cert. was granted on this case just at the same time that Premo was very clearly re-articulating the Hill standard.
And so the court of appeals had gone back towards Strickland with a very broad reading just as this Court was coming down with an opinion that very clearly re-articulated the Hill standard, the two-part performance and prejudice test.
And that's what we are asking be reversed.
Justice Samuel Alito: Suppose he had snapped up this deal as soon as it was offered.
By the time he -- he appeared before the court to answer a formal plea of guilty, would the court have known that he had in the interim been arrested yet again for driving without a license?
Mr. Koster: The court probably would have known as a result of a pre-sentence investigation.
And perhaps more importantly, Your Honor, the prosecutor himself would have known about the -- the second arrest, and he would have withdrawn it.
And if I may, it's not always -- we have concentrated so far in the case before and today on subsequent criminal actions.
You know, back home in Missouri, the criminal reporting system, we still use on five-part carbon paper that you have got to press hard with a pen to get down to the fifth page.
It is also possible that the prosecutor learns at a subsequent date of a criminal history that is material that predates the plea offer.
And so in both directions, it's important that prosecutors have full discretion to take these pleas back.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: Well, regardless, your legal position is that there is no basis for setting aside the plea if an earlier, better offer was not communicated.
That's your legal position, right?
Mr. Koster: My legal position is that a finding -- a conviction was entered on March 3.
He pled guilty.
The question before the Court is what satisfies a standard by which we are going to unwind it?
A Sixth Amendment violation would satisfy that standard, and if -- if there was a Sixth Amendment violation, if the plea was truly involuntary, we would unwind it.
But the search for a better deal that is antecedent to the events of March 3 is not the Sixth Amendment violation that should begin unwinding 97 percent of the convictions in the country.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: You're saying there's no Sixth Amendment violation when the counsel fails to communicate a favorable offer to the defendant.
That's your position.
Mr. Koster: No.
Respectfully, Your Honor, that is not my position.
My position is that ineffective assistance is a two-part test, that there was a performance breach in the failure to communicate, but once the performance breach is accepted, then it has to be run through the Hill standard to find whether prejudice has occurred, and then we would find the Sixth Amendment breach.
But we -- we do not get there logically because the offer did not exist after -- after December 28.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Well, I -- I didn't understand that to be your position.
There -- there is a statement in your brief that the question is whether plea negotiations that did not result in a guilty plea constitute a critical confrontation that gives the rise to effective assistance of counsel during such negotiations.
So I thought your position was that so long as the -- the plea negotiations don't result in a guilty plea, effective assistance of counsel doesn't even come into the equation.
Mr. Koster: I -- there is a question in--
Justice Antonin Scalia: I mean, you can say yes or no.
I mean, you can retract the question on that, I suppose.
Mr. Koster: --Is the question whether I believe that plea negotiations are a critical stage?
Justice Antonin Scalia: When they do not result in a guilty plea.
Mr. Koster: I believe they are not -- I believe that plea negotiations are not a critical stage under the laws of this Court.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: That's what we took the case for.
We didn't -- we wouldn't have taken the case if we were concerned about what happened in March and what happened in February.
We took the case because of your position, which is it's not a Sixth Amendment violation in these circumstances.
Mr. Koster: I do not -- there is a factual question as to whether or not plea negotiations in this case really ever engaged when all that ever occurred was the prosecutor sent a letter to the defense attorney.
Only in the most technical of readings--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Yes, but we don't care about that.
What do we care about that?
We -- we don't take cases to figure out those -- those picky, picky factual questions.
The issue that I thought was important here is whether this is a critical stage when -- when the defendant is not -- does not accept the -- the plea and plead guilty.
Mr. Koster: --Plea negotiations I don't believe are a critical stage, because the fate -- in the back and forth between a prosecutor and a defense attorney the fate of the accused is not -- is not set.
And these -- of course these negotiations can take place over a very long time.
Either party can get up from the table and walk away at any time.
And then, perhaps most importantly, the -- the dialogue of the negotiations are not used against the defendant at critical stages, which would contrast it, I suppose, in a Miranda situation in a custodial interrogation where that would be a critical stage.
Justice Antonin Scalia: And if it were a critical stage, I suppose that counsel would be ineffective, not only if he was a lousy lawyer and didn't know the law, but if he was a bad negotiator.
I mean -- right?
Being a good criminal lawyer means you -- you got to be a good horse trader, right?
Mr. Koster: I agree that that would be one of the extensions, if critical stage analysis was applied to plea negotiations.
Justice Antonin Scalia: You tell him to turn down a deal that in fact, you know, was a pretty good deal, that would be ineffective assistance of counsel.
So you must -- you must know how to handle yourself in a used car lot, right?
Mr. Koster: I understand that that would be one of the ramifications.
Justice Elena Kagan: So Mr. Koster--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: This is on the basic question--
Justice Anthony Kennedy: It's -- it's very odd for you to say that -- to me -- that this is not a critical stage.
If it results in a guilty plea and the -- and the attorney has not done sufficient research to uncover a defense, it can be set aside then.
So it's -- so you are saying it's not a critical stage depending on what the end result is.
That's very difficult.
I thought we were going to tell attorneys, you have an obligation during this plea bargain process to use professional competence.
And you say, well, you do or you don't.
That doesn't make much sense.
Mr. Koster: My understanding, Your Honor, is that attorneys are guaranteed the accused at critical stages, such as arraignments, plea hearings, trials, but then there is an implied guarantee that comes with that critical stage, and that implied guarantee is that their -- that the attorney appointed will do research, analysis and preparation that prepares him for the critical stage.
But when David Boyce is sitting home on a Saturday night with a file opened in his lap preparing for a case on Monday, that moment is not a critical stage of trial, on a Saturday night in his den, but it prepares for, it is precedent to a critical stage.
And the failure to engage in that preparation analysis can lead to performance and prejudice at critical stages, but it itself is not.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: --Well, the -- the question -- I make a counter-assumption.
The problem that I -- I have a feeling that I would like you and the others to comment on, is that you are worried deeply about a practical problem, and that the practical problem is that it would be too easy, as just was suggested by the question, to find that the lawyer after the defendant is convicted did a bad job during the plea negotiation, in which case everybody will get two or three bites at the apple.
And one of the reasons for that is every brief has been lifting the standards, particularly in respect to prejudice, from Hill, which was addressing a different question.
It was addressing the question of missed -- bad performance by the lawyer at trial.
And that is hard to track what the effects are.
It isn't that hard to say the trial was unfair, give him a new one.
That won't work here, I don't think.
So suppose what we did, instead of saying there was no right, you simply said you have to prove with some certainty, work out a standard, that there really was inadequate assistance during the plea bargaining, and you have to show something more than a reasonable probability that this would have led to the plea, et cetera.
You have to show that it would have happened.
Or you have a -- in other words, you have two tougher standards for this area, but you don't reject the idea of inadequate assistance of counsel during the plea bargaining stage.
I would like people's views insofar as they are willing to give them, on that question.
Mr. Koster: Ineffective assistance of counsel is a -- is a term of art, and it is a two-part test.
I believe that there can be performance breaches that occur between -- at the -- at the plea bargaining stage, but that prejudice does not occur until we return to a critical stage, which is -- is when that -- when that plea, when the product of that plea negotiation is returned to a critical stage and then it has critical stage protections over it, where the judge is there and there is an allocution and the rest of the protections--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Well, the open plea that wasn't made, that is a critical stage, that he took a the plea.
But he I think has a plausible argument that the plea he made, the open plea with no bargain in the picture, that that plea was not intelligently made because he didn't know that there had been an offer for him to plead to a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
Mr. Koster: --In Tollett -- may I?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yes.
Mr. Koster: In Tollett v. Henderson the question of the defendant Mr. Henderson's knowing waiver in that case, where the breach was infinitely more egregious in my view, which was the 1948 court packing that occurred and the African Americans citizens were excluded from that grand jury pool.
Mr. Henderson's lack of knowledge about a previous constitutional deprivation was not -- did not make his waiver unknowing.
Same with the analysis in McMann and in Parker and in Brady.
To -- to say -- there is no limiting principle that will allow this omission to unwind the knowing quality of Mr. Frye's waiver and then not open up the floodgates to all sorts of pre-constitutional deprivations.
I would like to reserve the balance of my time, Your Honor, thank you.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, Counsel.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF ANTHONY A. YANG FOR THE UNITED STATES, AS AMICUS CURIAE, SUPPORTING THE PETITIONER
Mr. Yang: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
When a defendant pleads guilty--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Are you taking the same position your -- I don't want to call it co-counsel -- Petitioner's counsel is taking, that you are not entitled to an attorney at plea bargaining, unless you waive your -- unless your right to a trial?
Mr. Yang: --No, we are not--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: It's not a--
Mr. Yang: --We are not taking the view.
In this case the alleged deficiency is really not an interaction between the prosecution and the defense counsel in plea bargaining.
The alleged deficiency is a failure to inform the defendant of things the defendant would want to know as going forward, and we're -- we are willing to assume the defendant has a right to be properly informed by counsel.
But with any Strickland claim the relevant inquiry is whether or not the defendant has shown cognizable prejudice as a result of a deficient performance by the counsel.
And when a defendant pleads guilty in open court, the conviction rests on the defendant's assertion, an admission of his own guilt, and his consent that there be judgment entered, a judgment of conviction, entered without trial.
And because the conviction rests on a consent judgment, it wipes free antecedent constitutional errors.
The one challenge that--
Justice Elena Kagan: So I think, Mr. Yang, what Justice Sotomayor was suggesting is that your position does in fact require you to say that if there were no counsel at all in the proceedings, that would be perfectly -- that -- you know, there would not be a constitutional problem with that.
Once he pleads guilty, it just wipes away the fact that no counsel has been appointed for him.
Mr. Yang: --A -- a guilty plea wipes free all kinds of constitutional violations.
Justice Antonin Scalia: No, but the -- the guilty -- I mean, no, the reason why that is not true is that the guilty plea must be entered with advice of counsel.
You acknowledge that, don't you?
Mr. Yang: Correct.
And the guilty plea--
Justice Antonin Scalia: So the guilty plea doesn't erase everything if it has been entered without advice of counsel.
Mr. Yang: --Correct.
When the counseled guilty plea is entered, this Court has held that the one remaining challenge that would be allowed is the challenge to the knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to trial, which is what the guilty plea is.
Now, in order to show that you are prejudiced--
Justice Elena Kagan: So does that mean, Mr. Yang, a State could set up a system where it says we are going to do all our negotiating with the defendant with no counsel present in the room, but we are going to keep a lawyer on board just in the courtroom to advise him whether he should plead -- to advise him about the plea that he struck, even though he struck this plea with no counsel in the room, and that would be perfectly okay?
Mr. Yang: --We are not saying that -- that--
Justice Elena Kagan: All the negotiations could be uncounseled.
Mr. Yang: --We are not taking the position that States can deprive counsel or deprive counsel from participation in the guilty plea process.
But what we are saying--
Justice Elena Kagan: Well, I don't understand how you can say that, if you -- you know -- you are saying that; because you're saying that in the end the guilty plea wipes all constitutional error away.
Mr. Yang: --Just as we are not saying that there can be coerced confessions, not just like we are saying that a statute can impermissibly burden the right to trial by putting a death sentence on -- that's available only when you go to trial.
We are not saying any of that is allowed.
But what we are saying is when a -- and that was the Brady trilogy, Brady and McMann and ultimate Tollett, which led to Hill.
What the Court recognized is when you plead guilty in open court you are waiving your right to trial.
And the relevant inquiry, the only inquire once the defendant has admitted guilt, is to determine whether or not the waiver of the trial rights were knowing and voluntary.
And the reason that that is a relevant inquiry is because you have a constitutional right to trial.
And due process requires that the waiver of those trial rights be knowing, intelligent and voluntary.
And in Hill, the Court confronted the question and said: You need to show deficient advice in the context of pleading guilty; and in addition, you had need to show that that prejudiced you because, absent -- if you had received proper advice, you would have actually not waived your right to trial; you would have asserted your right to trial and gone to trial.
That's the standard that applies.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: If defense counsel gives wrong information to the defendant about witnesses that can testify in his behalf, and so forth, very bad legal advice, that can be grounds for setting aside the plea, correct?
Mr. Yang: It can, and because what's relevant--
Justice Anthony Kennedy: All right, so -- and that is because counsel pre the entry of the plea did not adequately advise his client.
Mr. Yang: --Right, right.
The key is that--
Justice Anthony Kennedy: Why is there no problem when he doesn't adequately advise a client of earlier better offers?
Mr. Yang: --It's a different prejudice.
The -- when you plead guilty and your counsel has advised you wrongly in a way that would have changed your mind about the merits of going forward on trial, you can show that the waiver of the trial right is something that was prejudiced.
But because -- had you known, had you been properly advised, you would have exercised the whole panoply of rights that the Constitution provides one who goes to trial, not only a right to a trial by jury but all the trial rights that go with it.
But when you instead plead guilty in open court -- and the claim here is not that the defendant would have exercised his right to trial.
The claim is he would have waived his right to trial either way.
That is not prejudice to the -- that would overcome the guilty plea, which again rests on--
Justice Elena Kagan: Well, Mr. Yang, there are different kinds of unfairness.
One kind of unfairness is when you are badly advised and you, therefore, waived your right to trial and you would have gone.
But there is another prejudice, which is you and ten other guys are all in the same situation and those ten other guys come up with a favorable plea deal because their lawyers are paying attention, and you come up with an unfavorable plea deal because your lawyer has fallen asleep.
And to the extent that we have an effective assistance right that means something, that unfairness needs to be addressed by it, doesn't it?
Mr. Yang: --Well, when -- again, once -- whether or not there was a prior error, once you plead guilty, the question is not whether there were other deals on the table, the question is whether that waiver of--
Justice Elena Kagan: Well, I guess that is the question.
Why isn't that the question?
Mr. Yang: --Well, right, but if it were the question, it would call into -- this Court in, in going back to Brady and then in Boykin, explained that what's -- the relevant question when you enter a guilty plea is whether you have waived your right to trial validly.
And, in fact, that has to be spread upon the record.
Rule 11(b) has now been modified by this Court to go through the things you have to check to make sure that that waiver of your trial rights are knowing and voluntary.
What we have here is not anything associated with the waiver of trial rights.
What really the defendant is claiming is some entitlement be able to take another deal that would not have resulted in trial.
But that is not relevant to the waiver of trial rights.
That would be recognizing another type of right.
But this Court has repeatedly held that there is no right to a guilty plea, there is no right to plea bargaining, once you have a plea agreement there is no right to enforcement.
The only rights that come into play is when that guilty plea is rendered into a judgment.
And when you don't get there, but instead you plead guilty and you have waived your right to trial, you have consented to the entry of judgment, and even if you had received better advice you would have consented to the -- you would not have gone forward to trial, you have -- the basis on which the conviction rests remains valid.
Justice Antonin Scalia: You have admitted that you got what you deserved, right?
Mr. Yang: Precisely.
And this Court in Premo addressed the exact same question.
In Premo there was a contention that had counsel done better before by filing a motion to suppress, it would have been in a better position to secure a better plea agreement from the prosecution.
But the Court concluded that, no; the relevant inquiry once you have pled guilty is whether or not you would have, if properly advised, insisted on your trial rights and gone to trial.
That's the standard set forth in Hill.
And the reason--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Mr. Yang, in your view is there any situation in which a defendant could regain a plea opportunity that he lost due to counsel's conceded inadequacy?
And I think it is accepted that not telling him of the plea offer was ineffective representation.
Is there any case where the defendant could regain the plea opportunity that he lost?
Mr. Yang: --If he pleads guilty?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yes, if he doesn't seek the trial right.
Mr. Yang: I'm sorry, I didn't catch that.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yes.
If he doesn't want to go to trial and he is going to plead guilty, is there any circumstance where he could regain that lost opportunity?
Mr. Yang: If he has pleaded guilty and he validly waived his rights to trial, because he would not have asserted them, then I think under Hill what you have is a defendant who admits guilt, there is no real risk of any kind of error in that determination, and the judgment which must be set aside -- remember, we have to set aside the judgment.
The judgment rests on the admission of guilt and the waiver of trial.
The judgment cannot be set aside at that point, because this Court has long recognized the special force of finality with respect to guilty pleas.
That is because for several reasons.
First, guilty pleas are an important part of the system, and it would be -- both delay and impair the orderly administration of justice any time we open another avenue to challenge guilty pleas.
But, two, once the defendant has stood up in open court and admitted guilt, there is almost no risk of error, and the defendant has gotten the proper sentence and the proper conviction.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
Mr. Yang: Thank you.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Mr. Queener.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF EMMETT D. QUEENER ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENT
Mr. Queener: Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:
Galin Frye entered a plea of guilty to felony driving while revoked and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
His trial lawyer failed to inform him that the prosecutor was willing to allow him to accept a plea offer to a misdemeanor charge and recommend 90 days in jail.
Fundamental fairness and reliability of criminal process requires that an attorney provide his client information regarding matters in this case.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Why?
Why is it unfair for the law to apply to this individual the punishment he deserved for the crime that he committed?
I mean, the object of the system is to put -- is to punish people who commit crimes in a certain degree.
And here he admitted he did the crime and he got the degree of punishment that the law provides.
What could be more fair than that?
Mr. Queener: Fairness includes a whole range of sentencing options, and in this case the prosecutor was making a determination of what was fair in this case when he made the offer.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Ex ante, I suppose you could say that.
But when you look at it later, it's clear that that would have been unfair.
In fact, this individual was perfectly willing to admit that he had been guilty of more than what the prosecutor had offered.
Mr. Queener: Part of the consideration that a defendant has to make during the plea bargaining process or plea negotiation process is determining the liability that he's willing to accept in entering a plea of guilty.
Justice Antonin Scalia: That's true, and he did that when he entered the plea of guilty.
You do not contest he was well advised when he entered that plea that it was knowledgeable and he admitted that that's what he had done and was willing to accept the degree of punishment prescribed by law.
Mr. Queener: Well, he was -- the guilty plea in terms of what he was admitting to, he was willing to and had to agree that he had committed the crime of driving while -- while revoked.
But the plea was open in terms of sentencing and he was allowed to argue for something lower than sentencing.
He only knew that was the available options at that time.
He wasn't aware that the prosecutor had made available an option to him to limit his exposure for that offense to 90 days.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Counsel, I have a two-part question.
Mr. Queener: Okay.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: All right.
What exactly made his plea unknowing or involuntary, number one?
And number two, identify the right he was deprived of, substantive or procedural, by his attorney's failure to communicate the plea.
Mr. Queener: The plea was unknowing and involuntary because he was not made aware by his counsel's unprofessional representation of all of the circumstances available to him, the consequences of entering that guilty plea, that would have included the 90-day on a misdemeanor if he had been aware of that.
Justice Samuel Alito: Suppose he had been told that -- suppose he had been told that, and the prosecutor said, well, yes, that's true.
I made that offer, but it's off the table now.
And apparently, this was then off the table.
So what good would it have done him to know about something that happened in the past but was no longer available.
Mr. Queener: This offer was only no longer on the table at the time he entered the plea of guilty, because it had expired.
And that was a result of counsel's ineffectiveness in failing to communicate that to him.
The lower court, the Court of Appeals, made a finding that this offer was available, and he could have taken advantage of it before it expired.
And that was a finding by the court below.
Justice Samuel Alito: I understand that.
It may have been unfair, but I don't see why it's involuntary.
Because I don't see that -- advising him that he had an option at some point in the past which was no longer available really doesn't have much of a -- doesn't have any bearing on the voluntariness of his plea to a later less-favorable offer.
Mr. Queener: I -- that's -- it seems to me that that's involuntary in the sense that he didn't know it then.
It's not that it's involuntary now because that he knows it.
It was involuntary because he didn't know it then.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: Well, suppose -- suppose the case in which a plea offer's made, not communicated, and expires.
And then there is a guilty plea here.
And he doesn't -- and the defendant enters a -- a guilty plea but doesn't know about the prior offer.
Is -- is there injury?
Mr. Queener: There is -- there is an increase in sentence.
And that's the situation here.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: Is -- is the plea involuntary?
Pardon me, is it unknowing?
Mr. Queener: It is--
Justice Anthony Kennedy: And what would he -- what would he have done had he known?
Mr. Queener: --It's unknowing in the sense that he did not know the--
Justice Anthony Kennedy: You mean, judge, I'm really sorry I didn't accept responsibility three months earlier?
Mr. Queener: --What he does -- what's unknowing about that is the potential consequence that he is choosing in deciding to plead guilty.
And if I may, that's the second part of your question.
The right that he has is the right to make fundamental decisions -- in his case, one of which is to accept a plea bargain and plead guilty.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Doesn't -- doesn't the rule that the plea offer may be withdrawn at any time by the prosecutor -- indeed even after it has been accepted -- doesn't that well enough establish that there is no right to profit from that plea offer, that there is no constitutional right he's being deprived of, given that the prosecutor can withdraw it even after he accepts it?
Mr. Queener: That can be with -- excuse me -- that can be withdrawn at any time by the prosecutor, but we're not arguing that there is a right to a particular plea -- a particular plea.
He is entitled to the right to make a knowing and voluntary acceptance of a plea, a knowing and voluntary guilty plea, and that requires that he know all of the information.
And the record that we have in this case, there is nothing to suggest that that plea would not have gone forward.
The mere potentiality for withdrawing the plea--
Justice Antonin Scalia: I -- I had hoped you were making some argument other than the knowing argument, because as prior discussion has shown, even if he had known, it would have made no difference to whether he had accepted the later plea.
Suppose he had been told,
"by the way, there was an earlier plea. "
"It's too late to accept it now. "
"Do you want to take this plea? "
"oh, I'd like the earlier plea. "
"I'm sorry, the earlier plea is gone. "
"Do you want this plea or not. "
He would have taken it.
What does the knowledge of the earlier lapsed plea have to do with whether his guilty plea is knowing and voluntary?
It doesn't seem to me to have anything to do with that.
So I -- I thought you had some other argument that was somehow a right to profit from the earlier offer.
And I find it hard to see that right, given that the prosecutor can withdraw the offer and indeed even withdraw it after it's accepted.
Mr. Queener: --The right is to enter that plea knowing the full consequences of what he's doing at that point, which includes the limitation on his exposure for the offense.
This is sort of a sentencing issue.
And an increase in sentence is a -- is prejudicial.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But the -- the Missouri Supreme Court said in what -- that the prosecutor -- it would not -- it would not order the prosecutor to renew that earlier plea.
So they said the options were, you can get a new trial -- you can get a trial or you can replead the open plea.
But wasn't it -- didn't the Court say we will not order the prosecutor to reinstate the earlier offer?
Mr. Queener: That is correct, Your Honor.
Their finding more specifically I think was that they did not feel like they were empowered to do so.
We certainly believe that they can -- they are empowered to do so in the sense that this is a remedy provided for a constitutional violation.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: What about as a constitutional violation that, in a context of a world where 95 percent of all people in prison are there as a result of bargaining and guilty pleas arranged with prosecutors, in that context, it's fundamentally unfair to deprive a person of his liberty for 40 years instead of six months because the lawyer which he is guaranteed fell down on the basic, fundamental, obvious duty of communicating the relevant plea agreement?
Mr. Queener: I agree with you completely, Your Honor.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: So is there any support for me?
Mr. Queener: That -- that is the issue where -- in terms of the sentencing outcome, this is knowledge that he is required to -- that is required by his attorney to provide him -- sentencing of difference is prejudicial under Strickland, and the remedy for -- I guess going back in -- even more basic than that -- is that ineffective assistance of counsel is -- has to be remedied.
Justice Antonin Scalia: But if that's ineffective assistance of counsel, surely it's ineffective assistance of counsel to advise him to turn down an offer that he should have snapped up.
Isn't that ineffective assistance as well?
If it's absolutely clear that this was a great deal, and the lawyer said,
"nah, you shouldn't take it. "
Is that ineffective assistance or not?
Mr. Queener: I'm going to have to couch that in terms of saying it would depend on the circumstances -- what you have to--
Justice Antonin Scalia: I gave you the circumstances.
It's clearly a super deal.
Any good lawyer would have told him to take it.
And this lawyer says "don't take it".
Is that ineffective assistance?
Mr. Queener: --That would probably not be ineffective assistance.
Justice Antonin Scalia: It would not be?
Mr. Queener: The question would then be whether or not there is prejudice from that.
Justice Antonin Scalia: It would be ineffective assistance and the question would be prejudiced.
Is that it?
Mr. Queener: I think an attorney can provide reasonable representation in making that sort of an offer.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Give me -- give me a yes or no to the question whether, if every reasonable lawyer would have told him to snap up this offer but his counsel tells him, no, turn it down.
Yes or no, is that ineffective assistance?
Mr. Queener: In that circumstance, it is ineffective assistance, because he has to do what is -- is a reasonable standard of representation.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Then we are in the soup.
Then we are in the soup.
Because every one of these pleas is subject to the contention that oh, there was an earlier plea, or I should have -- I should have taken it but -- I mean -- and I suppose that if he goes to trial, then you -- you would also say that trial should not have occurred because it was the ineffective assistance of counsel that caused him to turn down the plea.
And therefore, we are going to -- right, retry, set aside the trial?
Mr. Queener: Under that circumstance, that would -- may well be.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Yes.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Now, you have read these cases, and now we are right on what I think is the point, because we've both defined a possible constitutional right but there is a practical problem.
Now, the States and others have dealt with this on your side for the last 30 years -- and presumably you but not me.
I've read a lot more cases.
Now, have they developed -- as you look across those cases, are there some States or places that have developed reasonably tough standards in respect to what counts as ineffective assistance, and in respect to whether it made a difference that would help to alleviate the concern that this would turn into a great mess?
Which it hasn't, apparently.
Mr. Queener: As I understand these cases, the -- the standards being applied are the Strickland standard.
It's the high bar of deficient performance and prejudice under Strickland.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Well, we get a lot of Strickland cases, and the lower courts do, too.
That's not much comfort in terms of what the consequences of a decision in your favor would be.
Mr. Queener: --I mean, that -- that's certainly true.
I mean, we -- we have--
Justice Samuel Alito: Where the case goes to trial prejudice isn't going to be very hard to prove.
The person turned down the 5-year deal and gets -- and after trial is sentenced to 20 years.
So you've got -- you're got prejudice right there, right?
Mr. Queener: --Right.
Justice Samuel Alito: So there's always going to be a very good argument for prejudice where a person turns down a favorable deal and then gets slammed after a trial.
Mr. Queener: I'm -- I'm going to qualify my answer a little bit.
Because I think we're -- what the Court has to -- to keep in mind is the rational decision requirement that I think was reiterated in -- in Padilla.
You're going to have to look at whether or not the defendant was making a rational decision -- in that choice.
It's not simply that there was many another offer out there, but was the decision rational on the part of the defendant to accept or reject that offer that was there?
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Counsel--
Justice Samuel Alito: The point is just -- I'm sorry.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: --No, go ahead.
Justice Samuel Alito: The point is just that prejudice isn't going to be very tough to show, is it?
You turned down a 1-year deal and later when that was off the table, you accepted a 5-year deal.
Mr. Queener: That may well be the--
Justice Samuel Alito: That's prejudice.
Mr. Queener: --That may well be the easier part of the -- of the equation.
But there's still going to be--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Why?
Because you have to show a causal connection, so you would have to show -- show in the causal connection that he would have taken that deal.
Mr. Queener: --That's -- yes.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: And if -- if you are going to use the words reasonable probability that he would have taken it, it might be fairly easy to show.
And that's where in the back of my mind I'm thinking that maybe we want something tougher than reasonable probability, that you have to show that it really would have made a difference.
Mr. Queener: I -- I think reasonable probability is a -- is a workable standard that we have used for -- for many years.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But you are -- you are leaving out of the picture the prosecutor's prerogative to withdraw or flip.
You said that the court, that it lacked authority to order the State to offer any bargain, but also the court said, I'm not going to require the prosecutor to renew an earlier offer.
One thing is clear in this case; the prosecutor did nothing wrong.
The wrong was on the part of defense counsel.
So why should the judge disarm the prosecutor, take away the prosecutor's right to change his mind?
Mr. Queener: The -- this is a remedy for the Sixth Amendment violation, and that is to put the defendant back into the position as nearly as possible as he would have been in at the time; and at the time the offer was open -- this is not a situation where the prosecutor is being ordered initially or the first instance to make an offer; it -- this is being viewed as the offer that was originally made is still available and open to the defendant.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Yes, but at the time that offer could have been withdrawn by the prosecutor.
And you are saying now it can't be withdrawn.
So you are really not putting him back in the situation he was in.
Mr. Queener: There -- there is never going to be a perfect remedy for any of these violations, I don't believe.
Justice Antonin Scalia: I think that's right.
Mr. Queener: Right.
Justice Antonin Scalia: And that's one of the things that causes us to be suspicious of whether there is a constitutional violation--
Mr. Queener: Well--
Justice Antonin Scalia: --because there really isn't any perfect remedy.
Mr. Queener: --There can be a perfect--
Justice Antonin Scalia: In some cases not even a close to perfect remedy.
Mr. Queener: --I think this is close to perfect, as close to perfect as we can get, which is what is required for Sixth Amendment remedies, that it mitigated to the extent possible.
And in those circumstances where one party, the interests of one party may be infringed upon, if that happens -- they can't be infringed upon unnecessarily.
This is a necessary infringement.
The State bears the burden of ineffective assistance of counsel, and if that's in a -- an erroneous sentencing then the State has to bear the burden of erroneous sentencing.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Counsel--
Justice Samuel Alito: On the issue of--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: --I'll go this time.
Counsel, on page 24 of your brief you quote Alford for the proposition that a valid plea must be a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant.
Mr. Queener: Yes.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: On the next page you say when Frye entered his guilty plea before the trial court he was completely unaware that counsel's ineffective delay had forever foreclosed those options.
Now, I put the two of those together and find you saying that this was a valid plea.
Mr. Queener: No it was--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: The question of validity is whether it's an intelligent choice, as you quote, among the alternative choices of action open to the defendant.
The next page you say these options have forever been foreclosed, so they weren't open to the defendant.
Mr. Queener: --Well those were foreclosed simply as a result of trial counsel's ineffectiveness, which -- which caused him to be unaware that they had been ever available to him.
So that that's how the plea becomes involuntary is not that he's not aware of what the situation is at the time that he's entering the plea, because there are many other circumstances that goes into his decision of whether or not to enter a plea.
Those alternatives were only no longer available to him as a result of counsel's failure to perform his duty professionally and communicate the offer.
Justice Samuel Alito: --On the issue of remedy, as the Respondent are you not limited to the remedies that were provided in the judgment of the State court?
Mr. Queener: No, I don't believe so, because the State court of -- court of appeals simply thought it was not empowered to put him back in the position that he was in, and I think that is the remedy under the Sixth Amendment.
Justice Samuel Alito: You didn't file a cross petition and there wasn't one granted.
So aren't -- aren't you limited to defending the judgment below?
Can you ask for a modification of the judgment below in your favor?
Mr. Queener: The second point in the -- in this case is what is the appropriate remedy.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: And that's -- is that the question that the Court raised?
Mr. Queener: Yes, yes.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Court was expecting you to address.
Mr. Queener: But we did file the petition challenging the -- the finding of the -- or the relief provided by the court below.
Justice Samuel Alito: You think that because we added a question that acts as the functional equivalent of a granted cross petition, that would permit modification of the judgment in your favor?
Mr. Queener: No, but the last I -- the last I recall that cert petition was still pending, I may be wrong about that, I'm not sure, that it was just into this case.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Are -- are you recognizing that the remedy that the Missouri Supreme Court did give was a futile remedy, that is, plead guilty, to have another open plea or trial, because this defendant apparently doesn't want to go to trial.
Mr. Queener: I think both of those are futile remedies, and -- and that's why it's really obvious that the remedy has to be something else.
This is not a situation where he does have a very like -- a very good likelihood of succeeding at trial.
That's not going to do any good.
That won't get him a misdemeanor where he will be sentenced to 90 days.
The open plea is basically the same -- the very same think that's causing him the prejudice in this case, so the remedy being provided by Missouri Court of Appeals is essentially no remedy at all for the prejudice that he suffered.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But why should -- now that we know what the judge's sentence was, and part of the plea offer was remade, the part about -- what was it, 3 years versus 10 days in jail?
Mr. Queener: Yes.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: And the judge said, I'm not going to give him just 10 days, I'm willing to put him in jail for the whole 3 years.
Now if that -- this the sentence that the judge gave, he rejected the -- half of the plea bargain, so surely he would have rejected the more generous one.
Mr. Queener: I -- I'm not sure that's entirely the only answer we can draw from this record.
At the time that this -- or this guilty plea was being entered and the sentence was handed down, this was an open plea, it was not an agreement.
If they had gone to court on a plea agreement between the prosecutor and the defense, and that was up for a -- an amendment down to a misdemeanor and a reduced charge; you know, that is something more definitive.
Then the judge would be looking at what the parties had agreed to at that point.
Justice Antonin Scalia: I'm not sure I understand the difference between an open plea and a plea agreement.
He just comes to the judge and says I'm willing to plead to this without the prosecution having offered it?
Mr. Queener: The open plea basically means there is not an agreement between the parties.
Now they may each know what either party is going to argue for or recommend, but there is not an agreement between the parties.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Okay.
Mr. Queener: And I think that -- would leave the court with a little more flexibility than -- than he might otherwise exercise if they came to him with an agreement.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: I'm sorry, just to make sure.
I thought the earlier, the November 15th letter agreement--
Mr. Queener: Yes.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: --always left it up to the judge whether to accept either the felony with shock treatment or misdemeanor with 90 days.
So the judge was always free to reject either of those two?
Mr. Queener: I think the deference to the trial court on probation was in that first one, the three years with defer to the Court on probation.
If they had agreed on the 90 days in the misdemeanor, that would have been a plea agreement between the two parties.
That would have been a definitive--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Well, he could still--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Binding the judge?
Justice Antonin Scalia: --He could--
Mr. Queener: --Not binding the judge.
No, that would not bind the judge.
It never would.
The judge would have the opportunity, at that point -- the only time -- the only thing the judge would have discretion over at that point would be the actual amount of sentence.
If the prosecutor reduced that from a felony to a misdemeanor, the judge couldn't reject that.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: He would have had to accept it.
Mr. Queener: He would have had to accept--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: But he would not have had to accept the 90 days.
Mr. Queener: --He would not have had to accept the 90 days.
Justice Antonin Scalia: --But -- but you're--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: I'm sorry.
What proof would you have in the record that the judge would have accepted the 90 days?
Mr. Queener: I don't have proof in the record that he would have.
What I have in the record -- there is nothing in the record to suggest that that would not have happened.
The appellate court found -- in fact by making the determination that Mr. Frye was prejudiced, necessarily made the conclusion that that plea would have gone forward.
The motion court said nothing to refute that.
There was nothing in the court's findings that the court would not have accepted that agreement had the parties come before it with that.
If there are no further questions.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
General Koster, you have two minutes remaining.
REBUTTAL ARGUMENT OF CHRIS KOSTER ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER
Mr. Koster: Thank you, Your Honor.
Two of the justices questions raise the concept of sentencing equivalency.
And certainly sentencing equivalency is an important goal, both at the federal system and we've tried at the state system.
But sentencing equivalency is not an avenue that the Sixth Amendment is intending to reach.
The essential question here to Justice Breyer's earlier question that I think I didn't answer properly, is should we begin unwinding these convictions in search of lost plea opportunities?
I think that we should not.
It undermines the long discussions in both Hill and Premo about the importance of the finality of these, and our being able to rely on the finality of these decisions.
There is mutual reliance, there's state reliance as well, because when these offers are made the state does not interview witnesses, the state does not send evidence to the lab, the state does not, you know -- sometimes even get to the point where the charges are made.
So there is state reliance, which is synonymous with a reliance of justice on the finality of these agreements as well.
And also, the search for these lost opportunities that Mr. Frye is asking this court to lead us towards, takes a point of representation beyond the limited scope of the Sixth Amendment in Gonzalez v -- Gonzalez-Lopez and other courts, the limited -- the limitation of the Sixth Amendment that this Court has always appropriately articulated.
For this and other reasons stated in our briefing, the Missouri versus Court of Appeals should be reversed.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you counsel.
The case is submitted.
Justice Antonin Scalia: As you heard, I filed a dissent in each of these cases.
In Missouri versus Frye, the Chief Justice and Justices Thomas and Alito have joined my dissent.
In Lafler, Justice Thomas has joined in full and the Chief Justice has joined al'l but one part.
I have not taken the trouble to figure out which of my following comments have been joined by whom, lest I put words in other people's mouths, you can assume I speak only for myself and Justice Thomas.
Let me begin with our prior case law to which the majority opinions today claimed to be faithful.
For nearly three decades, ever since we decided the seminal case of Strickland versus Washington dealing within effective assistance of counsel, we have explained that the ultimate focus, “the ultimate focus" in any ineffective assistance case must be "the fundamental fairness of the proceeding whose result is being challenged".
The test was not whether the result would have been different but for the ineffective assistance, but whether the in effective assistance destroyed the fairness of the conviction.
Thus in a case called Lockhart versus Fretwell, decided in 1993, counsel had failed to make an objection which under the then current law pronounced by the Court of Appeals would have compelled the trial court to give the defendant a life sentence instead of the death sentence that he, in fact, received.
We nonetheless found no ineffective assistance in the constitutional sense because that case from the Court of Appeals was wrong and had later been reversed by this Court.
So, even though counsel's error deprived the defendant of a life sentence, that's what he would have gotten.
It did not deprive him of a fair trial.
Today's opinion changes that.
There is not doubt that the defendants in these cases were convicted and sentenced pursuant to fair and constitutionally valid procedures.
One of them got the gold standard of American justice, a full-dress jury trial before 12 men and women tried and true, who unanimously found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The other defendant confessed his guilt after a judicial proceeding that assured his confession was voluntary and true.
They are both without a doubt guilty, they do not claim otherwise, and have been a judge so and sentenced by the fairest of procedures.
What they claim in this appeal is that they should not have had to suffer fair conviction and sentence because it was only mistake of counsel that deprived them of a better plea deal, a few words about plea bargaining.
In many, perhaps most countries of the world, American style plea bargaining, at least in cases such as serious as these, is forbidden, even for the purpose of obtaining testimony that enables conviction of a greater malefactor, much less simply to save the State the expense of trial.
In Europe, many countries adhere to what they call the "legality principle" which requires prosecutors to charge all offenses they believe they can prove.
In the United States, of course, we have plea bargaining a plenty, but until today, we have regarded it as a necessary evil.
Sure, it causes some people to plead guilty to offenses they are really not guilty of simply to avoid the enormous expense and the risk of being tried for higher offenses and sure, it causes a lot of guilty defendants, perhaps most of them, to get off with a less punishment than the law says they deserve.
Even so, we accept it because many believe that without plea bargaining, our long and expensive process of criminal trial could not sustain the burden imposed on it and our system of criminal justice would grind to a halt.
But until today, no one has thought that there is a constitutional right to a plea bargain, a constitutional right not to plead guilty on the basis of bad advice, yes, because pleading guilty deprives a defendant of a fair trial but not a constitutional right to plea bargain.
In all States and the Federal Government, the prosecution does not have to offer a plea bargain.
The prosecution can withdraw it until it is accepted and even after it has been accepted, the judge can refuse to approve it.
In some States, including Missouri, the State involved in Frye, the plea offer can be withdrawn by the prosecution even after the defendant has accepted it, right up until the time that the judge approves it and accepts the defendant's guilty plea.
After today, however, plea bargaining is no longer a somewhat embarrassing adjunct to our criminal justice system.
The Court says, quoting approvingly from a law review article, "It is the criminal justice system."
And since it is, defendants are entitled, constitutionally entitled to have counsels who are effective plea bargainers, not in order to assure that the defendants get a fair trial but in order to assure that they have a fair chance to escape a fair trial and get less punishment than they deserve.
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, to serve less time than the law says he deserves and when a player is excluded from the tables, his constitutional rights have been violated.
Today's opinions open a whole new field of constitutionalized criminal procedure, the field of plea bargaining law.
The Court announces this new field in opinions that almost seem designed to sow confusion.
Today's decision -- decisions deal with only a few aspects of constitutional plea bargaining law, attorney' failure to pass along a plea offer and attorney failure to counsel acceptance of a plea offer because of mistake regarding what their prosecution would have to prove at trial.
What other counsel bargaining inadequacies might there be?
The Court does not say, though it acknowledges that that is a difficult question and, of course, if plea bargaining is the criminal justice system, the prosecution must have some responsibilities as well.
Must it leave a plea offer open for a decent amount of time so that the defendant can ponder it?
Is the rule that a plea offer can be withdrawn at anytime before the Court accepts the plea even after the defendant has accepted it?
Is that rule now unconstitutional?
The Court leaves all this to be worked out in further litigation, which you can be sure there will be plenty of.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of today's opinions is the majority's discussion of the appropriate remedy for violations of its newly discovered constitutional right.
In Lafler, the Court requires the State to reoffer the plea agreement that was rejected because of counsel's bad advice.
That just turns out to be meaningless however because according to the Court, "The state trial court can then exercise its discretion in determining whether to vacate the convictions and resentence respondent pursuant to the plea agreement, to vacate only some of the convictions and resentence respondent accordingly or to leave the convictions and sentence from trial undisturbed."
That is nothing short of extraordinary.
Nowhere in our constitutional jurisprudence have we ever suggested that the remedy for an unconstitutional conviction, which this is said to be, could be entirely subject to the trial court's discretion or that the remedy could ever be no remedy at all.
There are other things wrong with these opinions.
In the Frye case, whether the defendant suffered any prejudice from his attorney's failure to inform him of the plea offer depends on, one, whether he would have accepted the plea offer, two, whether the prosecution would have withdrawn it, as -- as the Missouri law allows and three, whether the trial judge would have approved it.
All of these woulders are purely speculative.
On remand, the Court is to determine prejudice by a process of retrospective crystal ball gazing posing as legal analysis.
As for the Lafler case, that is here on federal habeas corpus and Congress has passed a law that says we cannot reverse a state court decision on federal habeas unless it violated clearly established federal law.
No one could possibly think that a constitutional right to plea bargain was clearly established federal law.
Perhaps, the plea bargaining process is a subject worthy of regulation, but it happens not to be a process regulated by the Constitution, which is not a judicial cure-all for all of society's problems.
The Sixth Amendment is concerned not with the fairness of bargaining, but with the fairness of conviction.
In today's cases, the Court's zeal to bring perfection to everything requires a reversal of perfectly valid, eminently just convictions.
It is not wise, it is not right.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Justice Kennedy has the opinion of the Court in two cases this morning.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: Today the Court issues two opinions on the same subject, both concern clams of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of plea bargaining and the first case to be announced is Missouri versus Frye and the second is Lafler versus Cooper.
In the first case, Mr. Frye was arrested for driving without a license.
An offer of a plea bargain was mailed to his counsel and in it, the prosecutor offered to recommend a 90-day sentence if Frye pled guilty, but Frye's counsel did not tell him about the offer and the offer expired.
Frye later pled guilty.
He received a three-year sentence.
It was his fourth conviction for driving without a license.
In post conviction proceedings in the Missouri state court, Frye claimed ineffective assistance of counsel.
He argued he would have accepted the prosecutor's offer of a plea bargain had he known about it.
The state trial court denied the post conviction motion, but the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed, this Court grant of certiorari.
It is well established that criminal defendants have the right to effective assistance of counsel at critical stages of the prosecution.
Among these critical stages is the consideration of a plea bargain offered by the State.
Few would doubt that a defense attorney has a responsibility to tell his client about a prosecutor's formal offer of a plea bargain.
So, there seems to be agreement among the parties to this case that counsel's performance was deficient, but in arguing that relief should be denied, the State points out, there is no right to a plea bargain.
That's true, but it is also true that nearly 95% of convictions result from a plea of bargain to a significant degree then -- then.
Today's criminal justice system is a system of plea bargains and this Court is unwilling to say that within that system, counsel's performance does not matter.
Now, this does not mean that the respondent, Frye, will necessarily obtain relief in this case.
Once ineffective assistance of counsel has been shown, the defendant must still show prejudice.
The standard for prejudice is set out in Strickland versus Washington, an earlier case from this Court.
Under the Strickland test, even after showing ineffective assistance, the defendant must show there is a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different and that he was injured as a result.
On freeman -- on remand, Frye would have the opportunity to attempt to make that showing and that task will not be an easy one.
That's because less than a week before the first opportunity for the trial court to enter any plea bargain, in other words, even if the plea bargain had been communicated, the trial judge still had to approve it and a week before that, Frye was arrested for once again driving without a license.
In light of that new offense, there is reason to doubt that the prosecution would have adhered to the agreement or that the trial court would have accepted it unless the state law somehow required performance once Frye accepted.
It's appropriate for the Missouri Court of Appeals to address this question in the first instance.
The judgment of the Missouri Court of Appeals is vacated and the case is remanded.
Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion, in which the Chief Justice, Justice Thomas and Justice Alito join.