Lafler v. Cooper, No. 10–209.

CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation566 U.S. 156,132 S.Ct. 1376,182 L.Ed.2d 398
Docket NumberNo. 10–209.
Decision Date21 March 2012
Parties Blaine LAFLER, Petitioner v. Anthony COOPER.

566 U.S. 156
132 S.Ct.
1376
182 L.Ed.2d 398

Blaine LAFLER, Petitioner
v.
Anthony COOPER.

No. 10–209.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Oct. 31, 2011.
Decided March 21, 2012.


John J. Bursch, Solicitor General, for Petitioner.

William M. Jay, for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Petitioner.

Valerie R. Newman, Detroit, MI, appointed by this Court, for the Respondent.

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, John J. Bursch, Michigan Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Lansing, MI, B. Eric Restuccia, Michigan Deputy Solicitor General, Joel D. McGormley, Appellate Division Chief, for Petitioner.

Jeffrey T. Green, Karen S. Smith, Brian A. Fox, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC, Sarah O'Rourke Schrup, Chicago, IL, Valerie R. Newman, Jacqueline J. McCann, State Appellate Defender Office, Detroit, MI, for Respondent Anthony Cooper.

Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

566 U.S. 160

In this case, as in Missouri v. Frye, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 1399, –––L.Ed.2d –––– (2012), also decided today, a criminal

132 S.Ct. 1383

defendant seeks a remedy when inadequate assistance of counsel caused nonacceptance of a plea offer and further proceedings led to a less favorable outcome. In Frye , defense counsel did not inform the defendant of the plea offer; and after the offer lapsed the defendant still pleaded guilty, but on more severe terms. Here, the favorable plea offer was reported to the client but, on advice of counsel, was rejected. In Frye there was a later guilty plea. Here, after the plea offer had been rejected, there was a full and fair trial before a jury. After a guilty verdict, the defendant received a sentence harsher than that offered in the rejected plea bargain. The instant case comes to the Court with the concession that counsel's advice with respect to the plea offer fell below the standard of adequate assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.

I

On the evening of March 25, 2003, respondent pointed a gun toward Kali Mundy's head and fired. From the record, it is unclear why respondent did this, and at trial it was suggested

566 U.S. 161

that he might have acted either in self-defense or in defense of another person. In any event the shot missed and Mundy fled. Respondent followed in pursuit, firing repeatedly. Mundy was shot in her buttock, hip, and abdomen but survived the assault.

Respondent was charged under Michigan law with assault with intent to murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and for being a habitual offender. On two occasions, the prosecution offered to dismiss two of the charges and to recommend a sentence of 51 to 85 months for the other two, in exchange for a guilty plea. In a communication with the court respondent admitted guilt and expressed a willingness to accept the offer. Respondent, however, later rejected the offer on both occasions, allegedly after his attorney convinced him that the prosecution would be unable to establish his intent to murder Mundy because she had been shot below the waist. On the first day of trial the prosecution offered a significantly less favorable plea deal, which respondent again rejected. After trial, respondent was convicted on all counts and received a mandatory minimum sentence of 185 to 360 months' imprisonment.

In a so-called Ginther hearing before the state trial court, see People v. Ginther, 390 Mich. 436, 212 N.W.2d 922 (1973), respondent argued his attorney's advice to reject the plea constituted ineffective assistance. The trial judge rejected the claim, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed. People v. Cooper, No. 250583, 2005 WL 599740 (Mar. 15, 2005)(per curiam), App. to Pet. for Cert. 44a. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on the ground that respondent knowingly and intelligently rejected two plea offers and chose to go to trial. The Michigan Supreme Court denied respondent's application for leave to file an appeal. People v. Cooper, 474 Mich. 905, 705 N.W.2d 118 (2005) (table).

566 U.S. 162

Respondent then filed a petition for federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, renewing his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. After finding, as required by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), that the Michigan Court of Appeals had unreasonably applied the constitutional standards for effective assistance of counsel laid out in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), and

132 S.Ct. 1384

Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 106 S.Ct. 366, 88 L.Ed.2d 203 (1985), the District Court granted a conditional writ. Cooper v. Lafler, No. 06–11068, 2009 WL 817712, *10 (E.D.Mich., Mar. 26, 2009), App. to Pet. for Cert. 41a–42a. To remedy the violation, the District Court ordered "specific performance of [respondent's] original plea agreement, for a minimum sentence in the range of fifty-one to eighty-five months." Id., at *9, App. to Pet. for Cert. 41a.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed, 376 Fed.Appx. 563 (2010), finding "[e]ven full deference under AEDPA cannot salvage the state court's decision," id., at 569. Applying Strickland, the Court of Appeals found that respondent's attorney had provided deficient performance by informing respondent of "an incorrect legal rule," 376 Fed.Appx., at 570–571, and that respondent suffered prejudice because he "lost out on an opportunity to plead guilty and receive the lower sentence that was offered to him." Id., at 573. This Court granted certiorari. 562 U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 856, 178 L.Ed.2d 622 (2011).

II

A

Defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel, a right that extends to the plea-bargaining process. Frye, ante, at 1386 – 1387, 132 S.Ct. 1399; see also Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. ––––, ––––, 130 S.Ct. 1473, 1486, 176 L.Ed.2d 284 (2010); Hill, supra, at 57, 106 S.Ct. 366. During plea negotiations defendants are "entitled to the effective assistance of competent counsel." McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771, 90 S.Ct. 1441, 25 L.Ed.2d 763 (1970). In Hill, the Court held "the two-part Strickland v. Washington

566 U.S. 163

test applies to challenges to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel." 474 U.S., at 58, 106 S.Ct. 366. The performance prong of Strickland requires a defendant to show " ‘that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.’ " 474 U.S., at 57, 106 S.Ct. 366 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S., at 688, 104 S.Ct. 2052). In this case all parties agree the performance of respondent's counsel was deficient when he advised respondent to reject the plea offer on the grounds he could not be convicted at trial. In light of this concession, it is unnecessary for this Court to explore the issue.

The question for this Court is how to apply Strickland 's prejudice test where ineffective assistance results in a rejection of the plea offer and the defendant is convicted at the ensuing trial.

B

To establish Strickland prejudice a defendant must "show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id., at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052. In the context of pleas a defendant must show the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice. See Frye, ante, at 1388 – 1389, 132 S.Ct. 1399 (noting that Strickland 's inquiry, as applied to advice with respect to plea bargains, turns on "whether ‘the result of the proceeding would have been different’ " (quoting Strickland, supra, at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052) ); see also Hill, 474 U.S., at 59, 106 S.Ct. 366 ("The ... ‘prejudice,’ requirement ... focuses on whether counsel's constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea process"). In Hill, when evaluating the petitioner's claim that ineffective assistance led to the improvident acceptance of a guilty plea, the Court required the petitioner to show "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors,

132 S.Ct. 1385
the defendant] would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Ibid .

In contrast to Hill, here the ineffective advice led not to an offer's acceptance but to its rejection. Having to stand

[566 U.S. 164

trial, not choosing to waive it, is the prejudice alleged. In these circumstances a defendant must show that but for the ineffective advice of counsel there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court (i.e., that the defendant would have accepted the plea and the prosecution would not have withdrawn it in light of intervening circumstances), that the court would have accepted its terms, and that the...

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4289 practice notes
  • United States v. Saad, Cr. No. 16-035-JJM-PAS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • January 12, 2021
    ...of pleas a defendant must show the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice." Lafler v. Cooper , 566 U.S. 156, 163, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012) (citing Missouri v. Frye , 566 U.S. 134, 148, 132 S.Ct. 1399, 182 L.Ed.2d 379 (2012) ); see also Frye......
  • United States v. Freeman, No. 19-4104
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 30, 2021
    ...are entitled to effective assistance from counsel. U.S. CONST. amend. VI. This right extends to sentencing proceedings. Lafler v. Cooper , 566 U.S. 156, 165, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012). A lawyer is constitutionally ineffective where her representation falls below objective stand......
  • Alvarez v. City of Brownsville, No. 16-40772
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • September 18, 2018
    ...184 P.3d 1226, 1235 (Utah 2008). Because we now have "for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials," Lafler v. Cooper , 566 U.S. 156, 170, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012), today's opinion reaffirming our outlier position means that the vast majority of defendants in th......
  • Thoma v. Warden, Pickaway Corr. Inst., Case No. 1:20-cv-282
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • October 28, 2020
    ...includes the right to effective assistance of counsel in plea negotiations. Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 133 (2012); Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156 (2012). What must an attorney do to meet that obligation? The Court has held that at a minimum, counsel must convey a plea offer to his or her cl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4253 cases
  • United States v. Saad, Cr. No. 16-035-JJM-PAS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • January 12, 2021
    ...of pleas a defendant must show the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice." Lafler v. Cooper , 566 U.S. 156, 163, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012) (citing Missouri v. Frye , 566 U.S. 134, 148, 132 S.Ct. 1399, 182 L.Ed.2d 379 (2012) ); see also Frye......
  • United States v. Freeman, No. 19-4104
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 30, 2021
    ...are entitled to effective assistance from counsel. U.S. CONST. amend. VI. This right extends to sentencing proceedings. Lafler v. Cooper , 566 U.S. 156, 165, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012). A lawyer is constitutionally ineffective where her representation falls below objective stand......
  • Alvarez v. City of Brownsville, No. 16-40772
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • September 18, 2018
    ...184 P.3d 1226, 1235 (Utah 2008). Because we now have "for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials," Lafler v. Cooper , 566 U.S. 156, 170, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012), today's opinion reaffirming our outlier position means that the vast majority of defendants in th......
  • Thoma v. Warden, Pickaway Corr. Inst., Case No. 1:20-cv-282
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • October 28, 2020
    ...includes the right to effective assistance of counsel in plea negotiations. Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 133 (2012); Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156 (2012). What must an attorney do to meet that obligation? The Court has held that at a minimum, counsel must convey a plea offer to his or her cl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Restructuring Public Defense After Padilla.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 74 Nbr. 1, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...(2012) (holding that "defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution" for a plea deal); Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 165-66, 174 (2012) (finding that the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated by the defense counsel's substan......
  • Prison Brake: Rethinking the Sentencing Status Quo
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-4, October 2021
    • October 1, 2021
    ...compelling example of the trial penalty mentioned by Judge Gleeson in his presentation. See supra Section II.F. 52. Laf‌ler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 174 (2012) (holding that the petitioner was prejudiced by his counsel’s def‌icient performance in advising him to reject a plea offer and go t......

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