Category Archives: Plea Bargaining

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.

‘West Memphis 3’ Freed: What is an Alford Plea?

In one of the most surprising chapters in the controversial story of the “West Memphis 3″, the three Arkansas men — convicted of murder while still in their teens, and now in their 30’s — were set free today.

Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley have essentially agreed to plead guilty to the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, but the three defendants are also still permitted to proclaim their innocence.

Confused yet?

The judge in the Jonesboro, Arkansas case has allowed the “West Memphis 3″ to enter a special plea agreement, commonly known as an Alford plea, which lets an accused person maintain their claims of innocence while acknowledging that the prosecution has compiled enough evidence that a jury could return a conviction on the crime charged. There’s some good background and discussion on this kind of plea here on CNN.com.

Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelly were given time served for their charges after the judge accepted their new plea bargains, and all three are under suspended sentences after being set free, this according to MyFoxMemphis, which quotes prosecutor Scott Ellington saying after today’s proceedings: “I believe this case is closed.”

The Alford plea gets its name from the 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case Alford v. North Carolina, in which the Court upheld this specific kind of agreement between a prosecutor and a criminal defendant. In that decision, the Court declared:

    “An accused may voluntarily, knowingly, and understandingly consent to the imposition of a prison sentence even though he is unwilling to admit participation in the crime, or even if his guilty plea contains a protestation of innocence, when, as here, he intelligently conclude that his interests require a guilty plea and the record strongly evidences guilt.”