Can You Get a Redo If Your Counsel is Incompetent?

The case originates from the conviction of Anthony Cooper. Cooper was charged with assault with the intent to murder and weapons charges after he allegedly shot Kali Mundy four times in the back as she was trying to flee from him. He was arrested a short time later. During trial, Cooper’s counselor advised him that the medical evidence did not amount to what he was being charged with and that if he waited, the prosecutors would offer him a better deal. It turns out that this advice was incorrect in accordance with state law, the charges were backed up by the medical evidence. As a result of turning down the plea deal, Cooper was convicted and given the maximum sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison.

There are several questions at issue in this case. All of the questions have the potential to change the way lawyers conduct business. Cooper claims that if he was properly informed of his risks in accordance with the law, that he would have taken the plea deal and avoided the lengthy sentence he received. Cooper claims that his counsel violated his sixth amendment right to “have assistance of counsel for his defense.” The argument is not that he was deprived of the right to a lawyer, but that the lawyer himself deprived him of a proper defense. During the proceedings Justice Sotomayor asked, “Isn’t there a right to make a critical decision on whether to accept or reject a plea bargain, once offered?”

To this question the Solicitor General for the State of Michigan John J. Bursch responded, “The not guilty plea is an assertion of the defendant’s constitutional rights. It’s invoking the right to trial that the sixth amendment contemplates.” He went on to argue that there is no constitutional right to be offered a plea, and therefore he was not deprived of any constitutional right.

Justice Kennedy pressed the issue further by asking “Suppose this were a death case,” referring to the death penalty. “And with roughly the same facts and failure to communicate?” Solicitor General Bursch asserted that even in those circumstances that there still was no need to reverse the conviction as there was no violation of his rights as required by the constitution.

A ruling be the court is expected before the June.

Supreme Court Documents Lafler v. Cooper
Brief Documents form
Transcript of the Sixth Amendment form

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