Losing Sight of the Forest for the Trees: The Supreme Court's Misapplication of Sixth Amendment Strickland Analysis in Missouri V. Frye and Lafler V. Cooper

By Fitzgerald, Sean Michael | The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, April 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Losing Sight of the Forest for the Trees: The Supreme Court's Misapplication of Sixth Amendment Strickland Analysis in Missouri V. Frye and Lafler V. Cooper


Fitzgerald, Sean Michael, The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law


I. Introduction 682

II. Background 683

A. The Sixth Amendment and the Right to Effective Counsel 683

B. The Right to Effective Counsel and the Strickland Test 684

C. Ineffective Assistance Under Strickland 685

D. The Right to Effective Counsel During Plea Bargaining 686

1. Applying Strickland to Plea Bargaining 686

2. Defining "Effective Assistance of Counsel" in the Context of Plea Bargaining 687

3. Remedies for Defendants Who Establish Ineffective Assistance of Counsel During Plea Bargaining 687

4. Lafler v. Cooper 688

5. Missouri v. Frye 689

III. Analysis 690

A. The Court Erred in Finding a Sixth Amendment Issue in Cooper and Frye Because Neither Case Involved an Impediment to the Defendants' Right to a Fair Trial 690

1. Cooper Did Not Suffer Prejudice Under Strickland Because His Case Involved Rejection-Not Acceptance-of a Plea Offer, and He Suffered No Impediments to His Right to a Fair Trial 690

2. Frye's Conviction Was Established Through His Admission of Guilt; Thus, He Suffered No Prejudice and Is Precluded from Sixth Amendment Relief...............692

B. Applying Strickland to Cooper and Frye Leads to the Presumption That Defendants Have a Right to Receive a Plea Offer; This Inference Is Completely Refuted by Precedent.................................................................................694

C. The Remedies Discussed in Cooper and Frye Violate Legal Boundaries and Are Too Inefficient, Illogical, and Arbitrary to Constitute Effective Law.....................................696

IV. Policy Implications..............................................................................699

V. Conclusion............................................................................................702

I. INTRODUCTION

Today, plea bargaining is an essential component of the American criminal justice system.1 While there is neither a constitutional right of the accused to plea bargain, nor a government duty to offer a plea bargain, it is generally considered a beneficial practice for all parties involved.2

The Sixth Amendment protects several rights of those accused in criminal trials; among these is the right to effective counsel.3 In Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye, the Supreme Court ruled that this right applies retroactively to the plea bargaining process.4 However, defendants are only entitled to a remedy if their counsel's ineffectiveness prejudiced the result of their trial, and this determination is made using the test established in Strickland v. Washington 5

This Comment argues that the Supreme Court was incorrect in finding a violation of the defendants' Sixth Amendment rights in Cooper and Frye. The Court's holdings in these two cases imply a constitutional right to plea bargain, although this is completely refuted by prior case law, and the circuitous remedy not only violates legal precedent, but also is too arbitrary and illogical to be effective law.6 Part II summarizes the history of Sixth Amendment analysis of the right to effective counsel, as well as the extension of that right to the plea bargaining process.7 Part II also introduces the facts of Cooper and Frye and briefly discusses the Court's opinions from each case.8 Part III argues against the Court's extension of Sixth Amendment rights to Cooper and Frye because neither case involved an interference with the defendants' right to a fair trial.9 Additionally, Part III contends that the Court's application of the Strickland analysis in these two cases conflicts with the established precedent that defendants are not constitutionally entitled to receive plea bargains.10 Part III also argues that the remedy implemented in Cooper violates both prosecutorial discretion and the separation of powers doctrine, in addition to being too arbitrary and inefficient." Part IV identifies several legal complexities arising from these decisions that the Court will need to resolve in numerous additional cases. …

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