The importance of having an effective attorney in plea bargains

On behalf of Anaya-McKedy, P.C. posted in Violent Crimes on Thursday, August 4, 2011.

Today, the majority of criminal cases in Colorado and the rest of the country never go to trial. In fact, according to the American Bar Association (ABA), nearly 95 percent of criminal convictions result from defendants entering into a plea bargain with the prosecution.

In two amicus briefs filed recently before the United States Supreme Court, the ABA said that this means it is imperative for criminal defendants to have an effective defense attorney at the plea bargain stage to help guide them and make the right decisions.

Amicus briefs are briefs that are filed by people who have an interest in the outcome of a case, but are not actually parties to the case. The ABA’s recent amicus briefs were submitted in two appeals filed with the Supreme Court by defendants who argue that the poor advice from their attorneys caused them to turn down favorable plea bargains.

In one of the appeals out of Michigan, the defendant was convicted after his lawyer told him to reject his pea offer based on confusion he had with the state law. In the other appeal, the defendant pleaded guilty to a felony even though there had been a misdemeanor plea deal available, which his attorney failed to tell him about.

On behalf of the defendants, the ABA’s briefs asked the Supreme Court to find that an effective attorney is a constitutional right afforded to all criminal defendants at the plea bargain stage.

The ABA advised the Supreme Court that it should grant power to judges to remediate situations in which defendants lose out on plea deals because of an ineffective defense lawyer. The remediation may be to order a retrial or to grant the defendant the benefit of the lost plea deal, the ABA suggested.

In the aforementioned amicus briefs, the ABA has articulated how important effective lawyering is in criminal cases. In the most serious circumstances, the effectiveness of a defense lawyer can even mean the difference between life and death.

Source: ABA Journal, “ABA Urges Supreme Court to Find a Right to Effective Assistance in Plea Bargains,” Debra Cassens Weiss, July 27, 2011.