Supreme Court extends effective lawyer right to plea deals
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON | Wed Mar 21, 2012 12:32pm EDT
(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday extended the constitutional right to effective legal assistance in cases of plea bargain deals that are rejected or lapsed due to bad lawyer advice.
Splitting by a 5-4 vote, with moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the court's four liberals in two cases, the majority held that the right to effective counsel applied to informal plea bargain negotiations that take place between criminal defendants and prosecutors.
In the second ruling, the majority held a defendant must show "a reasonable probability" the plea offer would have been accepted by the judge when a lawyer's bad advice caused the defendant to reject the plea bargain and then stand trial.
The pair of rulings in cases from Missouri and Michigan could allow convicted criminals to seek to reopen their cases after they passed up favorable plea bargains because of ineffective assistance of their lawyers.
In both cases, the criminals said they had been denied their constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel because of mistakes by their attorneys during plea negotiations. The majority agreed.