Missouri v. Frye

Following is the case brief for Missouri v. Frye, 132 S. Ct. 1399 (2012)

Case Summary of Missouri v. Frye:

  • After respondent Frye was charged with a crime, Frye’s counsel received a 90-day-sentence plea offer from the prosecutor.  Frye’s counsel failed to inform Frye of the offer, and the offer expired.  Frye ultimately pleaded guilty and received a three-year sentence.
  • Frye filed for post-conviction relief, stating that he would have taken the 90-day offer had he known about it.  The state court denied relief.
  • The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed.  It held that Frye satisfied both prongs of the Strickland standard — Frye’s counsel was deficient, and Frye was prejudiced because he would have taken the reduced-sentence plea offer if he knew about it.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court vacated that ruling.  The Court held that the Sixth Amendment applies in the plea bargaining stage.  However, it also held that Frye must prove prejudice by showing (i) he would have taken the reduced-sentence plea offer, and (ii) the prosecutor and court would have allowed the plea to be entered.

Missouri v. Frye Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Respondent Galin Frye was charged with driving with a revoked license in August 2007. Because he had been convicted of the same offense three times before, he was facing a felony conviction with the potential of a four year prison term.  The prosecutor in the case sent Frye’s attorney a letter with two plea offers to dispose of the case, one of which was an offer for Frye to plead to a misdemeanor with 90 days in jail.  The offers had an expiration date.  Frye’s attorney did not tell Frye the offers had been made, and the offers expired.

Less than one week before his preliminary hearing on the August 2007 charge, Frye was again arrested for driving with a revoked license.  Frye ultimately pleaded guilty to the August 2007 offense.  There was no underlying plea offer at that time, and the court sentenced Frye to three years imprisonment.

Procedural History:

  • Frye filed a post-conviction relief petition in state court.  He alleged that his counsel was ineffective for failing to tell him about the plea offers.  The state court denied the petition.
  • On appeal, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed.  It held that Frye’s counsel was deficient in failing to convey the offer, and that Frye was prejudiced because he would have accepted the misdemeanor offer had he known about it.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

  1. Does the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel apply to plea offers that lapse or are rejected?  Yes.
  2. To show prejudice based on counsel’s ineffectiveness regarding plea offers, does a defendant have to prove that (i) he would likely have accepted a more favorable plea offer, and (ii) the prosecutor and court would have allowed the plea to be entered?  Yes.

Judgment:

The judgment of the Missouri Court of Appeals is vacated and remanded for further consideration.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

  1. The Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel extends to plea offers that lapse or are rejected.
  2. If counsel is ineffective with regard to plea offers, a defendant proves prejudice by demonstrating a reasonable probability that (i) he would have accepted a more favorable plea offer, and (ii) the prosecutor and the court would have allowed the plea to be entered.

Reasoning:

  • Sixth Amendment applies to plea offers that lapse.

As a threshold matter, the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel applies at all critical stages of a criminal proceeding.  Receiving a plea offer that has an expiration date is one of those critical stages.  Accordingly, Frye’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated when his counsel failed to convey the prosecutor’s offers to Frye.

  • Frye must also show his plea offer would be accepted by the prosecutor and the court to establish prejudice.

Frye is not entitled to relief for the violation, however, unless he can demonstrate that he was prejudiced by his counsel’s deficient performance.  Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).  The Missouri Court of Appeals correctly found that Frye was prejudiced because he would have taken the misdemeanor offer had he known about it.

However, one additional proof must be made in this context that the Court of Appeals did not consider.  Frye must also show a reasonable probability that the prosecutor and court would not stand in the way of his accepting the lesser plea offer.  Prosecutors typically have the discretion to withdraw plea offers and courts typically have discretion not to accept them. Given Frye’s subsequent arrest for the same offense, it is an open question as to whether the prosecutor would abide by his initial offer on the August 2007 offense.  The case must therefore be remanded for consideration of that question.

Dissenting Opinion (Scalia):

While the State is not obligated to extend a plea offer, there is no question that Frye’s counsel was deficient by not conveying the plea offers to his client.  That said, the Sixth Amendment deals with fairness of convictions, not fairness of bargaining.  The plea-bargaining process is worthy of regulation.  The Sixth Amendment, however, is not the vehicle for such regulation.

Significance:

Missouri v. Frye and its companion case, Lafler v. Cooper, are important decisions regarding the Sixth Amendment in the plea bargaining process.  Frye, in fact, seems to give with one hand and take from the other.  On the one hand, the Court confirms that the plea bargaining process is a “critical stage” for Sixth Amendment purposes, giving additional protection to defendants.  On the other hand, the Frye Court makes it a little more difficult for defendants to prove the prejudice prong of the Strickland standard.  Defendants now have to show that not only would they have accepted an offer, but that the State and the court would have allowed it to be entered.

Student Resources:

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/566/10-444/opinion3.html

https://www.oyez.org/cases/2011/10-444

https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/plea-bargaining-and-effective-assistance-counsel-after-lafler-and-frye

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