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Missouri v. Frye - 566 U.S. 134, 132 S. Ct. 1399 (2012)


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. Any amount of additional jail time has Sixth Amendment significance.


Respondent Frye was charged with driving with a revoked license. Because he had been convicted of the same offense three times before, he was charged, under Missouri law, with a felony carrying a maximum four-year prison term. The prosecutor sent Frye's counsel a letter, offering two possible plea bargains, including an offer to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor and to recommend, with a guilty plea, a 90-day sentence. Counsel did not convey the offers to Frye, and they expired. Less than a week before Frye's preliminary hearing, he was again arrested for driving with a revoked license. He subsequently pleaded guilty with no underlying plea agreement and was sentenced to three years in prison. Seeking post-conviction relief in state court, he alleged his counsel's failure to inform him of the earlier plea offers denied him the effective assistance of counsel, and he testified that he would have pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor had he known of the offer. The court denied his motion, but the Missouri appellate court reversed, holding that defense counsel had been ineffective in not communicating the plea offers to Frye and concluded that Frye had shown that counsel's deficient performance caused him prejudice because he pleaded guilty to a felony instead of a misdemeanor.


Should Frye’s post-conviction relief be granted?




The Supreme Court of the United States held that defense counsel had a duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that might be favorable to an accused. The Court averred that the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance applied to the entry of a guilty plea. According to the Court, when counsel allowed the offer to expire without advising respondent or allowing him to consider it, counsel did not render constitutionally effective assistance. Notwithstanding the existence of this right, the Court concluded that under the doctrine enunciated in Strickland v. Washington, Frye had to show prejudice from the ineffective assistance. Vacating the judgment, the Court concluded that the state appellate court erred by not requiring Frye to 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 plea and that the trial court would have accepted it.

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