Missouri v. Frye- Maybe the defense lawyer and not the defendant should go to jail.

Galin Frye was a serial revoked-license driver, with 3 convictions on his rap sheet. Arrested for a 4th time for driving with a revoked license, Frye was charged with a felony carrying a maximum term of 4 years in prison. The prosecutor sent Frye’s lawyer a letter: if Frye pleaded guilty, the charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor and the prosecutor would recommend a 90 day sentence.

Generous as this deal might seem, Frye never had a chance to accept it. The reason: his lawyer never bothered to tell him about the deal, and the deal expired. Frye eventually was arrested for a 5th time for driving with a revoked license. This time he plead guilty and was sentenced to 3 years in prison. Frye challenged the sentence, arguing that his defense lawyer’s ineffective assistance violated his Sixth Amendment right to competent counsel. Had he known about the prosecutor’s offer to the 4th charge, Frye argued, he would have pleaded guilty in a nanosecond and been spared a lengthy prison sentence.

In Missouri v. Frye (2012), the US Supreme Court upheld Frye’s claim. The majority and dissenting opinions debate the wisdom of putting the plea bargaining process under the microscope of the Sixth Amendment. But the shameful behavior of Frye’s lawyer is shocking. Or it would be if it didn’t confirm so many complaints about the shoddy representation provided by all too many criminal defense lawyers.

Neither the majority nor the dissenting opinion mentions the name of Frye’s lawyer, or indicates whether the lawyer was a public defender, a “panel” lawyer appointed by the court or a privately retained lawyer. But it shouldn’t matter. Ethical guidelines adopted by the American Bar Association and virtually all states require criminal defense lawyers to communicate and explain all plea proposals. Sadly, this case is a reminder that in the trenches of the criminal justice system, far too many defendants suffer because of the ineptitude of their lawyers.