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United States Supreme Court Rules Defendant Had Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel When Accepting or Rejecting Plea Offer

In the case of Lafler v. Cooper, the United States Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that stands up for the rights of criminal defendants everywhere. This case began in Michigan and worked its way to the United States Supreme Court. In the case, Anthony Cooper was charged as a habitual offender with the Michigan offenses of assault with intent to murder, felon in possession, felony firearm, and possession of marijuana.

Two times, the prosecutors offered a plea deal that would dismiss two of the charges in exchange for a guilty plea to the other two remaining charges. The deal also called for the prosecutor’s recommendation of a 51 to 85 month prison sentence. Though Mr. Cooper did initially express willingness to accept this offer, in the end he did not accept it. After a trial, he was found guilty of all four crimes and sentenced to 185 to 360 months. The reason he did not accept the plea offer was that his attorney told him the prosecutor would not be able to prove that he intended to murder because the victim had only been shot below the waist. The problem is that under Michigan assault law, this assertion is simply incorrect. The attorney had incorrectly and ineffectively advised his client.

Five out of the nine US Justices agreed with Cooper

Cooper appealed his conviction, stating that he is constitutionally entitled to the effective assistance of counsel. Under federal and Michigan law, a criminal defendant can win a claim of effective assistance of counsel if he or she can show that the attorney’s performance fell below the standard of a reasonable attorney in that situation, and that the defendant was prejudiced because the outcome would have been different if it were not for the deficient performance. Here, Cooper argued that if his attorney had not told him that he cannot be convicted at trial of the assault with intent to murder felony, he would have accepted the plea deal. Five out of the nine United States Supreme Court Justices agreed with Cooper, ruling, “If a plea bargain has been offered, a defendant has the right to effective assistance of counsel in considering whether to accept it. If that right is denied, prejudice can be shown if the loss of the plea opportunity led to a trial resulting in a conviction on more serious charges or the imposition of a more severe sentence.”

As criminal defense attorneys, we applaud this decision by our Supreme Court. This expansion of a criminal defendant’s right to effective assistance is likely to have broad reaching effects throughout Michigan and throughout the country. Defendants are entitled to effective representation and those charged should be able to rely on the advice of their attorney. Plea bargaining is a very important part of the federal and Michigan criminal process, and a defendant should not be prejudiced because of a blatant mistake by their lawyer during plea negotiations. If you are facing criminal charges, contact the Michigan defense attorneys at The Kronzek Firm today.

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